The gay marriage controversy in Britain’s Anglican Church focused recently on a quite practical question: Can gay and lesbian civil partners both register as parents on a baptismal certificate? When Aimi and Victoria Leggett approached the Rev. George Gebauer of Warsash, England, to have their infant baptized, they requested that Gebauer list them both as the child’s mothers. He refused, saying that doing so was illegal and that no child could possibly have two parents of the same sex. Church officials reversed the decision of the retired minister, however. Archdeacon Gavin Collins said “we would be thrilled to carry out this baptism” and to record both parents as mothers.
This baptismal dispute reflects larger fractures over sexuality which threaten to break apart the Church of England globally. The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has sought to balance the liberal stance of many Anglicans in Britain, Canada, and the United States with the conservative views of newer, thriving Anglican churches in places like sub-Saharan Africa. Welby, who opposed the legalization of gay marriage as a member of the British House of Lords, recently told a group of evangelical Anglicans that they should “repent” over the history of anti-gay discrimination, and acknowledge that the church was fundamentally out of step with the “revolution” that has transpired in acceptance of homosexuality. He hinted that he had not settled his own opinion about legalizing same-sex marriage.
Parliament approved gay marriage earlier this year, but it allowed dissenting churches to opt out of performing same-sex weddings. That exemption irritates activists and civil partners like Barrie and Tony Drewitt-Barlow, who are suing the Church of England to force all ministers to conduct gay weddings. Barrie Drewitt-Barlow explained that “it upsets me because I want it so much—a big lavish ceremony, the whole works. … I am still not getting what I want.”
The marriage controversies, along with the denomination’s ordination of openly gay priests and bishops, have alarmed traditional Anglicans and made global schism more likely. Conservatives led by African archbishops plan to meet in Kenya for a second Global Anglican Future Conference the week of Oct. 21. Ugandan Archbishop Stanley Ntagali recently registered his continuing opposition to Anglicans ordaining and marrying gays, saying that these practices had torn the denomination “to the deepest level.” Kenyan Archbishop Eliud Wabukala likewise contends that gay activists’ “overthrow” of the created order of male and female was just one symptom of the church’s spiritual disease.
Pastor Makeda Pennycooke of the nondenominational Freedom House Church in Charlotte, N.C., recently sent an email to the congregation asking for volunteer greeters to help welcome visitors. This seemingly innocuous request generated a firestorm, however, because it did not call for just any church members to serve, but “only white people.” “First impressions matter,” she said, so the church wants “the best of the best on the front doors.”
This shocking statement was more complicated than it first appears: Pennycooke is African-American, and the multiracial church’s senior co-pastors, Troy and Penny Maxwell, are white. The pastors were concerned that the welcoming team did not have enough whites, and that white visitors might not see “people like themselves” when they came to church. Pennycooke quickly apologized for the email, and the church explained that she meant only to “intentionally reach out to all races.” Freedom House stated that she had gone “overboard in placing emphasis on any one race over another in trying to highlight diversity.” —T.K.