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Anglicans seeking tradition faced with Gay Pride

By Robert Pigott
BBC Religious Affairs Correspondent, Jerusalem

Men at Jerusalem Gay Pride
A few thousand marchers made their way through central Jerusalem
When 303 traditionalist Anglican bishops, together with clergy and lay members of the Church, ascended to the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem this week, they were taking the spiritual high ground in the Anglican Communion's dispute over homosexuality.

As they were photographed against a background of the Old City and Temple Mount the symbolism was clear - they were the authentic wing of the Anglicanism, going back to the birthplace of the Church and what they say was the stricter understanding of the Bible of the first Christians.

But to the evident consternation of the organisers of the Global Anglican Future Conference (Gafcon) they had travelled all this way to the Christian Holy City only to find the streets taken over by Jerusalem Gay Pride.

It was a noisy - you might even say brazen - celebration of homosexuality by the descendants of the very people who gave Christianity the Old Testament of the Bible.

As 3,000 gay and lesbian marchers gathered in a park in the centre of Jerusalem, guarded against attack by 2,000 police, back at the conference hotel contingency plans were being laid to contend with any gay raiding party sent out to beard the traditionalists in their redoubt.

Rev MelvinTinker's strong views on the march

Time to re-interpret

All the Anglican traditionalists were to join in a special hymn, and one delegate had been selected to speak to the marchers. Instead, it was a traditionalist Anglican who travelled across town to assess gay pride at first hand.

The Rev Melvin Tinker, the vicar of St John's in Newland, a parish on the edge of Hull, turned up dressed in shocking pink with sunglasses as cool as any others on display.

Mr Tinker, a prominent figure among evangelical Anglicans, took in the same-sex couples, waving rainbow flags and towers of coloured balloons wilting in the intense heat, and, despite the festive atmosphere and upbeat music said he was saddened by the sight.

"I find it strange - the fact it has to take place demonstrates that it is out of sync with the rest of society. You'd think it was odd if we had a sort of 'marriage pride' march," he said.

For Melvin Tinker - as for the other Gafcon traditionalists - the issue is not about sex, it is about how you interpret the Bible, a far more fundamental issue, and one which they believe cannot be tolerated without placing the Church in jeopardy.

Iain Baxter
Iain Baxter went to see what the traditionalists were up to at their conference

That is why it is important to traditionalists to point out that they have no problem with a homosexual inclination - because it is not ruled out by the Bible - only with those who act on it.

"What is considered out of bounds in the Bible is homosexual sex," Mr Tinker said. "It's neither natural, nor acceptable from the Christian point of view."

However, liberals, like those in the American Episcopal Church who set off the crisis in the Communion by ordaining a gay bishop in 2003, say it is time to re-interpret the Bible.

Iain Baxter is at the conference to report for the Gay and Lesbian Christian Movement.

Mr Baxter joined Melvin Tinker to walk among the crowd and make his argument for the Bible to be made relevant to 21st Century life.

"The Church has interpreted what the Bible is saying through the power of God's holy spirit", he said, "and I think if we look at what the Bible is saying to us today, we can see that God never changes, and yet our revelation and understanding of him does change, and I believe the Church is moving onwards in God's revelation."

I'm not accepted as a Progressive Jew, I'm definitely not accepted as a woman rabbi - so being a lesbian is just another problem to add to that
Trainee rabbi Gili Tsdikiyahn

The dilemma over how far it is permissible to re-interpret the scripture on which a religion is based is not only an Anglican issue, nor even only a Christian one.

Prayers for the rally were led by a trainee rabbi, Gili Tsdikiyahn, who is herself a lesbian. She said all religions were examining what their texts said about the way they live.

Trainee rabbi Gili Tsdikiyahn on religion and sexuality

"Not only is it universal, I think Judaism started it," she said. "It's definitely a Jewish thing to interpret texts, and to discuss it."

The Talmud, which is one of the most fundamental Jewish texts, is all about debate. It's taking the text and mish-mashing it, and arguing about it, and re-reading it," she added.

Some of the opposition directed at gay Jews has made the sort of rhetoric emanating from the Anglican meeting seem fraternal by comparison.

There were 2,000 police officers lining the streets of Jerusalem for the Gay Pride march because of violent attacks in the past by Orthodox Jews.

Although this time the march was left unmolested, Gili Tsdikiyahn agreed that to justify homosexuality within holy scripture was, at the very least, controversial.

"Well, Orthodox Jews are a very large group with lots of sub-groups, so if we take the extreme, that does not accept me," she said.

"I don't worry so much because I'm not accepted as a Progressive Jew, I'm definitely not accepted as a woman rabbi, so being a lesbian is just another problem to add to that, and I'm not too worried about it."

Orthodox and Progressive Jews do not have to share the same Communion of course. Anglicans, however, for all their 500 years of live and let live, are now perhaps terminally divided over how to interpret the Bible. It is a question that has the power to break the Anglican Church.



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