Almost 18 years ago, the BBC sent me to cover the 13th Lambeth Conference in Canterbury. It was an immense privilege for a young journalist to report about one of the most prestigious gathering of Anglicans bishops.
They only meet once every 10 years since the first conference that was held at Lambeth on 24 September 1867 to “discuss matters of practical interest, and pronounce what we deem expedient in resolutions which may serve as safe guides to future action”.
The 1998 issue that was discussed at the conference was homosexuality in the Anglican Communion.
The theme was a really “ a hot potato”, with some Bishops discussing it openly and calling for the church to be more “inclusive” and to allow gay priests to become “ Bishops” and with others claiming that “homosexual practice” is “incompatible with Scripture”. With this statement, those “radicals” had gone too far and they later issued a public apology to gay and lesbians Anglicans.
I was there to tell the story and possibly to live it with people who could help my audience in Africa to get it clearly. The problem is that in Africa, the vast majority of people still share their opposition to same sex-relations. In some areas, people don’t even know that gay people exist. There were a few Bishops from Africa, but they declined to comment on an issue they considered as an abomination.
One afternoon, I approached a Scottish Bishop, in his 60’s and he agreed to answer my questions.
He told me how happy he was to see the Anglican Church finally ready to “listen” and “understand” its own sons and girls. But I had my question that I wanted to ask on behalf of the millions listening to the BBC: “Your Excellence, tell me, how does it happen for people to become gay”? Bishop David H. looked at me, extended his hand and posed it on my shoulder and responded: “My son, you cannot become gay, you are gay at birth”.
That evening, I had my top line for the news. Reporting live from Canterbury in Kent, I told my African audience that gay and lesbian people were our brothers and sisters, that they are as natural as anybody else. Currently, homosexuality is outlawed in 34 African countries and 12 countries don’t criminalise homosexuality between two adults. But homosexuality is still illegal in around 80 countries globally.
The Catholic Church says that homosexual persons “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity”, and “every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided”.
In two years’ time, in 2018, the Lambeth conference will convene again at the Canterbury campus of the University of Kent. Hopefully, I will be there to report about the progress, 20 years on. Bishop’s David H. answer not only opened my heart, it also opened my mind