The islanders of Lesbos have lost their legal attempt to disallow the use of the word “Lesbian” to refer to women-who-sleep-with-women.

Now, this might seem like a victory for common sense over and above the silly human-rights legal arguments that seem to abound these days. Apart from the fact that it does appear that homosexual women have stolen the name of these islanders…

The term Lesbian is the proper designation for an inhabitant of the island of Lesbos, in the same way that Londoner is for someone who hails from London. The term was taken to refer to same-sex attraction among women because the ancient Greek (and female) poet Sappho came from Lesbos. Sappho appears to have written poems expressing physical attraction to other women, so is taken as a good forbear. In fact, according to Wikipedia (so it must be true), the term Lesbian (in the sexual sense) used to be interchangeable with the term sapphism.

I think it is fair to say that, worldwide, Lesbian means ‘homosexual women’ to more people than it does ‘inhabitants of Lesbos’, so the Greek courts decision is probably a good one. But lets think about it for a moment. This use of the word Lesbian is pretty arbitrary, and the islanders can reasonably claim to have the original usage. The logic of the selection of this word is daft: ‘Lesbians’ could just as easily be called ‘Romans’ because of an easier acceptance of such practices in ancient Rome.

How would you like it if they were named after your town or country? If the phrase ‘Brummies’ was used because some prominent homosexual women came from Birmingham? I could imagine even the most non-homophobic Brummie finding that distinction hard to swallow…

I feel sorry for the people-of-the-island-of-Lesbos. Surely they deserve to have their name back. Perhaps we should go back to calling those other Lesbians Sapphists…?

Why GAFCON matters

Train WreckI was quite flippant about GAFCON (the Global Anglican Future CONference) in my last post. The thing is, while I acknowledge that this is something that will bore or bemuse the vast majority, I think it is actually a hugely significant event.

The BBC and the broadsheets certainly think so. Dave Walker, over at the church times, shows some of the huge amount of press comment being generated on this at the moment.

The BBC especially love to talk up disharmony in the Anglican church. last night we had Colin Slee, Dean of Southwark Cathedral, who does for the left what Chris Sugden is for the right of the communion. Between them Auntie can pretty much guarantee that someone will get slagged off, insulted, or described as heretical. Why we never hear moderate, nuanced Anglican voices on PM or Newsnight I don’t know, but then I guess there is nothing a liberal, atheistic media would love more than a real schism in the state church.

So, why does GAFCON matter? Well, despite the fact that the end result of this conference may not be what the commentators are hoping, the fact that GAFCON is happening at all is momentous. The Anglican Church has historically managed to tread a difficult tightrope, maintaining Communion with people of widely different perspectives of theology and praxis. It has often done this through fudge and compromise, but it has done it. As much as they would probably rather not be, Colin Slee and Chris Sugden are ordained in the same church, committed to the same central tenants, recognising the same authorities.

The issues of homosexuality and women priests are not the only ones on which there is a variety of opinions in the Anglican Church. There are Calvinists and Arminianists, Charismatics and Cessationalists, the Anglo-Catholic High Church and the non-liturgical Low. All these and more have managed to remain under a single banner, despite disagreeing, often vehemently. Through fudge, compromise and a glacial pace of change the Anglican leadership has managed to tread a middle way that keeps even those at the far edges in step, never quite reaching the point of breaking away.

Yes, there have been leavers: my current employers for one, and the forbears of my churches movement as another. But for every group that has decided to part ways, there have been others of similar sensibilities who have managed to work within the wider body, enriching it and being enriched as a result.

GAFCON matters because here is a group that is actively talking about alternative structures and relationships, about reaching points of no return. That raises the dreadful possibility of all the fundamentalist evangelicals jumping ship. Many, I know, would say ‘good riddance’ but, as an Aeronautical Engineer, I can tell you that if you lose the end of your right wing and keep the left then you are not going to be able to fly straight. In fact, that lack of stability may well see you crash and burn.

If the GAFCON attendees leave the Communion, the moderates, even the Evangelical moderates who sympathise with the cause (if not the manner of its implementation) will not follow. But the resulting Church will be unbalanced with far more leaders of liberal persuasion in high office than would be healthy.

The other reason that GAFCON matters is because it enables the media to continue to paint the Church (and by that, I mean far wider than just the Anglicans), as illiberal, out of date and obsessed with sex. The resulting image is not one of a love of Christ for the world, but of angry, bigoted reactionaries intent on making society like themselves or departing from it to as great a degree as is possible.

GAFCON makes the Church seem backward and irrelevant to the world. It might actually split the Anglican Communion. It matters, and I sit here and watch with horror and a morbid fascination. Its like watching a train wreck, on live TV…

GAFCON: Like Comic-Con, but for right-wing bigots

I don\'t want to play!No-one else will care about this (it drew numerous blank looks when I was asked to explain it at the weekend), but GAFCON began today.

No, this isn’t come high tech conference dealing in the latest GPS-related gadgets or a superhero-fans get together: GAFCON is the Global Anglican Future CONference, a gathering of right-wing, ‘conservative’ clergy from the UK and the Third World.

Basically a whole host of ‘Traditionalist’, anti-gay, anti-women, leaders got offended that our beloved Rowan invited so many of those evil liberals to his once-a-decade Lambeth Conference that they went off in a huff and created their own gathering. Kind of a “we don’t like your smelly club, so we’re going to have our own! – And you’re not invited!!

Yes, it is a whole load of Bishops and other significant spiritual leaders behaving like 6-year olds, including respected evangelicals like Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, and Peter Akinola, Archbishop of Nigeria.


Seriously, this whole thing makes my blood boil, and I am having a hard time writing about it in anything approaching a balanced manner. My angry, opinionated b*****d side rears its head every time someone mentions the word ‘Reform’ or Anglican Mainstream.

If you wanted to deliberately set out to give the secular world exactly the wrong impression of a Christian response to the (very real) issues of homosexuality and women in leadership, GAFCON would be it. There is no message of love or Grace for the individual here, rather an approach of ‘if you even conscience to begin to sensitively wrestle with these issues, we will have nothing to do with you’. All that communicates to the world is at best angry indifference, and at worst real hate towards what is an established position in Western society.

That’s not to say that the church should just capitulate and abandon centuries old belief to follow the conventions of society, especially when the perspectives of societies around the world are so wildly different. It is just that this is an issue that deeply affects individuals’ core beliefs and perceptions of themselves and so needs to be dealt with sensitively. Instead we have a perfect example of how ignorant the church is of media relations and its perception in society: what is communicated to the world by these actions is often the exact opposite of what I believe the vast majority of individuals concerned would choose to convey in person.

Like I said, I don’t suppose many people, even Anglicans, will care about the gathering of a minority of Anglican leaders. But if there is a split in the Anglican Communion, it will be this conference that historians point to as the significant precursor.

Dave Walker, over at the Church Times Blog, is doing a great job of pulling together all various voices on this. Go read if I’ve managed to interest you

Negotiating Minefields

Michael Spencer (the Internet Monk) has recently been tackling, with great sensitivity, the biggest minefield in contemporary, western Christianity: the issue of homosexuality.

There are three essays: the first is a commentary on the need for sensitive, loving communication; the second and third are responses to a specific commenter, on (loosely) whether orientation is God-given, and biblical interpretation (within this discussion).

I really, really don’t want to step into this minefield, but I do think it is worth giving credit to someone who is doing so in a careful, considered and above-all loving way… Worth a read if you are interested in this topic. Well done Michael!

UPDATE: There is plenty of interesting play in the comments, especially of the first post. Commenter Peter has the most erudite and thought-provoking response from the ‘gay’ perspective… Kevin Montgomery asks some interesting questions as well.