Archbishop Tutu Defends Gay Christians

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Desmond Tutu, Anglican archbishop of Cape Town and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, has spoken out in defense of gay Christians who are members of the Lutheran church in Norway. Archbishop Tutu, one of the leading opponents of racial discrimination during South Africa's apartheid era, has drawn a link between apartheid and discrimination against lesbians and homosexual men.

His comments--which imply that discriminating against people on the basis of their sexual preference is as immoral as discriminating against them on the basis of their race or color--have deep implications not only for the churches in South Africa and Norway but also for churches across Africa, where homosexuality is often taboo, and for other Lutheran and Anglican churches around the world.

The issue of homosexuality has recently provoked intense debate in the Church of Norway, which is a Lutheran body with 3.8 million members. Homosexuals in Norway have the legal right to register as couples, which gives them the social and civil rights held by heterosexual couples. But homosexuals living as registered partners are banned from holding positions in the Church of Norway.

"It is my prayer and hope that in the same way the Church in Norway stood by us in our struggle against oppression, so it will continue to champion the cause of justice on the part of those who are marginalized by society or discriminated against simply for being gay or lesbian," Archbishop Tutu said in a January letter to a Norwegian Lutheran bishop, Rosemarie Kohn. The South African archbishop said he had expressed "support for various groups who are campaigning for gays and lesbians to be treated on an equal basis with all baptized persons."

However, Tutu said that, contrary to recent media reports from Oslo, he has no plans to visit Norway to show his solidarity with Christian homosexuals there. In his letter to Bishop Kohn, the archbishop stressed that he was expressing his "personal view" and that it was "outside his power to comment" on the Norwegian church's "manner of dealing" with the issue of homosexuality.

Kohn, bishop of the diocese of Hamar, Norway, had written to Archbishop Tutu seeking guidance on the issue. She represents a minority in the Norwegian church--three out of ten bishops--who are arguing for the full rehabilitation of homosexuals in the church. In a December letter she had told Tutu: "I have learnt to respect your theological thinking, your readiness to address yourself to difficult social and ethical questions, and your willingness to rethink traditional Christian thinking. …