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Last Updated: Saturday, 12 July, 2003, 19:18 GMT 20:18 UK
Gay protest disrupts Synod
Protesters led by Peter Tatchell (right)
Protestors accused the Church of prejudice
A protest by gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell disrupted the Church of England General Synod on Saturday.

The 30-minute protest came as the Church of England's governing body has tried to defuse the row over the appointment of a gay bishop by postponing a Synod debate on the issue.

Mr Tatchell walked on stage with six young supporters on Saturday morning and told the synod: "You can see the voice of bigotry and unreason here today.

"Your ears are deaf and your eyes are blind. You do not witness the suffering of gay and lesbian people."

Mr Tatchell accused the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, of "betraying his own principles" and told the synod he had "bowed to pressure from theological homophobes".

'Wrong time for debate'

Richard Thomas, director of communications for the Oxford Diocese, told Tatchell: "I can tell you now that he (Jeffrey John) would not approve of what you are doing and he would want you to withdraw."

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, told members of the General Synod in York at an emergency discussion on Friday night that it was the wrong time to discuss the dispute, especially without Dr John's presence.

The chairman of the synod's business committee, the Very Reverend Michael Perham, the Dean of Derby, told the meeting the "time critical element" had disappeared after Dr John's withdrawal and the issue would be better debated next February.

Rev Perham said the intervening time would give the church "the chance to reflect, to take counsel with our friends, perhaps to engage outside this chamber with those with whom we disagree".

Dr Williams agreed and added: "I do not actually believe a plea for a time for reflection is a soft option, unless you believe reflection is a soft option."

Debate postponed

The archbishop was warmly applauded for the decision but BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott said it is clear the problems the church faces over the issue of gay clergy are not going to go away.

The Rev Rod Thomas, of evangelical campaigning group, Reform, said while he supported a postponement of the debate, it had to happen sometime.

"Reflection is difficult and we need to do that as a church.

"The church has stared huge division in the face. It's been to the edge of the abyss and looked over and as a result, it's taken the decision that it doesn't want to go there.

"It now needs to give itself time to draw breath and think."

Exclusion

The meeting later on heard a number of claims that black people are being excluded from aspects of church life.

The claims came as members agreed to adopt recommendations of a new report on issues arising from the inquiry into the murder of south London teenager Stephen Lawrence.

Statistics revealed in the discussion showed just over 3% of those on the current electoral roll of Church members are from an "ethnic background".

The Reverend Simon Pothen, from Pinner, west London, said: "We utterly fail as a church if we don't adequately reflect our society. We don't do that at present."

The synod is now expected to turn its attention to the Anglican-Methodist covenant, an agreement for the two churches to work together.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Robert Pigott
"The intervention was as sudden as it was vocal"



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