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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-researched, penetrating and bitchy, 19 Nov 2007
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This review is from: A Church at War: Anglicans and Homosexuality (Paperback)
Stephen Bates is the recently retired religious correspondent for the Guardian. Even then he had a liberal bias. Here, able to write from a more personal viewpoint, he can let rip in a racy, somewhat bitchy, but ultimately penetrating account of Anglicanism's current favourite argument.
Since he no longer has to please potential interviewees, he fires off pretty freely. Thus, the bishop of Winchester Michael Scott-Joynt is 'an establishment figure of stately pomposity' (p180), just one of many pithy and elegantly dismissive phrases.
For example, when Dr David Hilborn, head of theology at the Evanglical Alliance describes Rowan Williams' writings on homosexuality as "both morally and hermeneutically flawed", Bates notes simply that this is "the assistant curate of St Mary's Acton saying that the Archbishop's writings are 'exegetically partial, theologically elliptical and ethically contentious'." and leaves it there.(p184)
And at times, these are genuinely revealing:
Greg Venables, while Archbishop of the Southern cone, and his predecessor preached the Gospel "so successfully that he ministers to a total congregation of 22,000 souls thinly spread across the vasts wastes of the Andes and the Pampas - rather less than many English deaneries..." (p163)
All this makes for an entertaining read, but the level of research, the number of interviews, and his plain grasp of the subject means this is a better work than just that of a waspish commentator. To take the example above, Bates must be right that Venables seems to be punching wildly above his weight, through his status as primate, when, say, the Archdeacon of West Lewisham ultimately has greater pastoral responsibilities.
By opening out his personal bias (when the congregation bursts into applause at Gene Robinson's consecration, "for the first time in my professional life at a meeting, I did the same"), Bates unlocks a new level of wisdom about the saga. Yes, of course, the reader needs to recognise where he is coming from, but it's not a covert agenda, and it's from a man who ultimately does care.
Eventually, you just get the sense that his revelations have the ring of truth:
"Akinola will not speak to Griswold but would trust (Drexel) Gomez, who in turn trusted Rowan Williams, who could speak to Griswold and so forth." (p282)
This may be a depressing way for a communion to run, but it sort of sounds about right.
His key thesis is that the homosexuality debate has been one targetted and brought about by conservative evangelicals and carefully prepared for. I am not sure I am as cynical as he is: hasn't it been precipitated more by societal change in the West wrongfooting the Church than by the desires of any one lobby group? At the same time, his is definitely a voice worth hearing.
As the Anglican Communion struggles forward to the 2008 Lambeth Conference, this book is definitely worth reading if you want to be informed about the debate.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sobering but also unputdownable, 5 Jan 2008
By 
Helen Hancox "Auntie Helen" (Essex, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Church at War: Anglicans and Homosexuality (Paperback)
It's a bit of a surprise to discover that a book which discusses some of the splits and controversies within the Anglican Church is unputdownable, but "A Church At War" was indeed that. What made the book so good was, firstly, the excellent writing style of Stephen Bates, whose book "God's Own Country" about American Christianity is also fascinating. Bates identifies himself as a Catholic married to a Charismatic Evangelical and his writing shows that he is very familiar with and at home in the world of Anglicanism.

This book is not just about the homosexual debate within Anglicanism. It looks more widely, describing some of the political machinations behind many of the events including Lambeth Conferences, the Appointment of Canon Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading, the US Episcopal Church's Gene Robinson situation and the contribution made to events by the ever-strengthening Evangelical section of the church. The underlying theme is that the divisions over homosexuality are more of a power struggle with the evangelical wing of the Church identifying this issue as one over which they could make a stand and wrest power from the liberals. This includes conservative American Christians bankrolling the African Anglican churches in their campaigns against the loosening of the church's stance on gay people, and many of the machinations such as this are shown taking place behind the Lambeth conferences and other meetings while the Archbishops of Canterbury make statements about listening to and learning from each other in a spirit of love. Parts of this book make for very uncomfortable reading, rather akin to watching children having a punch-up in a playground.

Bates speaks firmly from the side of those who believe that gay people have their part to play in the life of the church. He doesn't spend much time considering the Biblical references to homosexuality, just enough to show that there are scholarly reasons that mean it isn't a cut and dried issue, whether or not people find the arguments convincing themselves. This book isn't an impartial discussion but instead is a gripping read with caricatures of many players in the story, amusing asides and yet an overall sobering message. Bates reminds the reader many times of the inconsistencies in some of the arguments used against homosexuals (for example that divorce and remarriage are now allowed, although Jesus forbade that) and it's hard to know whether he has chosen some of the worst of the quotes from the Evangelical wing to contrast with the humble and godly statements of the gay people in his pages. Most of the evangelicals campaigning against changes in the church's acceptance of homosexuals come across very badly, with particular focus on many of the African church leaders and their own double-standards (as Bates points out, the Nigerian church vilified homosexual acceptance within the church but doesn't do anything about the polygamy, child sacrifice and the stoning of adulterous women within their own church).

This book isn't an easy read. It's hard to read of the strife and arguing between people who are supposedly in mission together. It's appalling to hear of some of the abuse and discrimination that gay people within the church have suffered. It's also frightening to believe, if his overall thesis is right, that those in control of the section of the church with growing authority chose to make a stand on this subject in order to wrest power from other traditions within Anglicanism, apparently unconcerned about the human despair and devastation that would follow. This isn't an impartial book but it's an important book for people from all sides of Anglicanism to read as it acts as a mirror to those within the church and can help them to see how the outside world may see them and their squabbles.
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5.0 out of 5 stars exciting and terifying in equal measure, 13 May 2013
By 
Mr. D. P. Jay (UK) - See all my reviews
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A hard-hitting survey of the hypocrisy and mess that the Anglican Communion has got itself into and the way gays have been scapegoated in an attempt to foster a false unity.

Some notes I made while reading this - a subjective reaction:

Scott joint says not true that church obsessed by sex. Nigerian tolerates polygamy, child sacrifice, stoning adulterers

p. 13 - 35 John Stott asks for reflect then calls gays perverts and inverts - what about biblical authority for women's ordination?
Bp. Wally Benn thinks gays like J. John are much taller cf. C19 tracts on how to sport a gay. Sent wishes to writer's evangelical wife - but not to him.
Bible also bans prawn cocktail, incest, bestiality - Banting only wears vestments at funerals - quotes medical evidence that body not made for gay sex; says he has studied the issue very carefully
Taylor has doubts over women's ordination but knows best teachers are `girls' as long as not in leadership role
Sandy Millar won't encourage Gay Alpha as it's not inclusive! Says there are half a million books on the inerrancy of scripture... Sermon stating that gay lobby was not flesh and blood but powers and quoted Akinola about gays being worse that beats.
Banners asking for Holy Spirit as `it' to shine. Evangelical Alliance is too liberal. - should have taken women's ordination as the issue but most of them married to women but do not (think they) know any gays.
`I see the bible as the instrument of a personal relationship with God but they are treating it like the Qur'an.'

pp. 36- 58 Akinola's ignorance of biology, psychology and oversight of church policy about ministering with sensitivity.
CEN Andrew Carey - creation narrative as basis despite it coming from Babylonian Exile.
Gareth Moore sees creation narrative saying humans should not be alone
Yada ambiguous - 943 times in OT and only 6 refer to sex
Stott says Sodom narrative must be about gays because it describes them as `wicked, vile and disgraceful
Paul taught that women with long hair were unnatural - put prejudice against women less acceptable in society now.
Issues in Human Sexuality takes `liberal'; scholars and mainly quotes their conservative side.
Christopher Rowland, `Thanks to Paul, Christianity has never been a religion that used the bible as a code of law....2 Cor the letter kills....'
US theologian Rushdoony 1973 on 10 Commandments says a\all law is a form of warfare and urges capital punishment for apostasy, heresy, blasphemy, wit craft, astrology, adultery, homosexuality, incest, striking a parent, juvenile delinquency, unchastity (women only\) before marriage.
Stott says death penalty `abrogated of course
Wenham - modern paganism, religious pluralism, abolition of Sunday, abortion, cremation and easy divorce - and gays - that is why Bible still relevant
Sufis regard appreciation of younger male bodies as integral to contemplation of glory of creation

p. 59- 69 Staggers 90% gay - Runcie told Kirker to see if he could keep hands off choir boys. Stott seized Kirker by throat
Reynolds describes communion as like sex. His partner stopped church when Ratzinger talked of intrinsic evil, adopted highly disturbed teenager.
Akinola would find it impossibly to sit in dame room as a gay
Sandy Millar said Robinson deserted his wife - in fact she left him and came to his consecration. Robinson said he wanted to be in communion with Akinola, even if Akinola did not want to be in communion with him.

p. 74 - 84 Pope Gregory imposed 3 times as much penalty for hunting, Burgundy - oral sex 7 years to life. In 1726 a London convict says it was no crime to do as he pleased with his own body, a Dutch preacher said his interest in men was `proper to his nature'.

p. 96 Michael Baughen - church should evangelise people where they are - in the golf clubs.
David Holloway's hounding of Brian Brindley.
Carey spoke of listening to gays yet wanted prayer book banned
Osborne report: when people think they have nothing to learn...difficult for growth to happen.
Issues Report used `homophile' - overtones of paedophile?

p. 132 - 142 George Carey travelled the world like a big white father but he had a tin ear for the church.
I am not going to cease to be a twentieth century person for fear of offending somebody in the third world.

South pacific has no word for gays - the village elders take care of them
Nothing can make us African bishops budge...what is rigid gently bend
Bishop Chukwuma - this is the voice if god talking. Yes I am violent against sin. Tutu is spiritually dead
The African bishops had not been to the debate
Bp Jenks of British Columbia said the document had the face of love but turned bit by bit into judgement and condemnation.
Carey applauded the hard-line speakers. Eames said the debate said we could love one another- and no one else
Richard Holloway described Carey's leadership as pathetic...tried to add a nice, fluffy prologue - better if had stayed silent. We listened to African bishops for whom sex is about ownership

p. 148 - 152 lesser brains poured over Rowan Williams' writings and pronounced the unorthodox. Evangelicals wanted a black archbishop next time even if he was mistaken for the janitor.

p. 165 - 171 Graham Dow recognises demon possession in false smiles, inappropriate laughter, Scottish ancestry, black dress or car, unrestful colour schemes - most spirits enter and leave the body through the orifices
Bp. Mike Hill joined Venables the week after his enthronement at Bristol
Said they would not recognise Jeffrey John's authority once he was consecrated.

p. 206 - 216 Gene Robinson got a postcard with an altar piece on one side and `You fornicating, lecherous pig' on the other. 2-1 letters in favour.
Abstinence different for straights who live in hope of marriage one day

p. 216 someone came out to John Stott - he has never spoken to them since - this is a couple where one partner narrowly escaped death on 9/11 by missing his flight
Martin Luther King's jail speech said justice often starts in disturbing manner.
If C of E cannot make pluralism work, who can?
The banks of a broad river have their limits - rivers change their course and occasionally overrun their channels, lines of sand get washed away by the tide.
Theirs is a sectarian, Congregationalist church that can only tolerate one sort of Christian and only the authority of those bishops who agree with them
Gregory Venables speaks for a diocese the size of a small parish.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fundamentalist evangelicalism ruthlessly exposed, 14 Mar 2006
By 
Gerard Lynch "paddingtonw2bear" (Belfast, Northern Ireland) - See all my reviews
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Bates provides a brilliant exposé of how a small cabal of conservative Evangelicals, a minority even within the Evangelical tradition in Anglicanism, have made homosexuality the definining issue in the Anglican Communion today. Bates ruthlessly exposes the media spin, American big money backers, unbalanced extremists and double standards behind the anti-gay camp in Anglicanism. Bates traces the growth of conservative Evangelicalism within Anglicanism in contrast to an increasingly pluralist and tolerant social stimmung in Britain and Ireland, relating how the sense of being backed into a corner makes the extremist wing of the Church more dangerous. He also casts a caustic eye over the double standards that make male-male sex a defining issue of orthodoxy for conservative Evangelicals while they ignore issues like polygamy and Christian involvement in the Rwanda genocide.
This book is disturbing. After reading it, moderate, Catholic and open Evangelical Anglicans will be in no doubt that we are engaged in a war for the soul of the church. In his final chapter, Bates looks at some of the casualties of that War. For the sake of those broken people, it is a war we must win.
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A Church at War: Anglicans and Homosexuality
A Church at War: Anglicans and Homosexuality by Stephen Bates (Paperback - 15 Aug 2005)
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