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Section H: Human Sexuality

105. This section appears here to address the tensions that have arisen in our common life.  It should have been titled “The Bishop and Homosexuality” because these discussions were the focus of this topic in the indaba groups. The self select sessions identified with human sexuality included Human Sexuality and the Witness of Scripture, Listening and Mission, The Anglican Communion and Homosexuality, Listening in Practice, Sexuality and Spirituality, Questions of Science, Culture and Christ, Culture and Homosexualities, Listening to the Experience of Homosexual People.

106. Faced with the issue of the ordination of women, the third meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in 1976 spoke about the Communion in this way: “As in the first century, we can expect the Holy Spirit to press us to listen to each other, to state new insights frankly, and to accept implications of the Gospel new to us, whether painful or exhilarating.”[27] Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10, while reiterating clearly the traditional stance of the Church, also called for sensitive listening.  The Bible study and indaba groups gave us the opportunity to meet in a spirit of generosity and prayerful humility which helped us to listen patiently to each other and to speak honestly.

107. Christians are called to exercise judgement and discernment in their vocation and discipleship, and to embrace that discipleship with humility and with generosity.  The Lord himself warned us to avoid judgementalism[28].  It is important therefore to be careful not to make dismissive judgements, because people have come to their decision after prayer and careful study of the Bible. Nor is there a monopoly on Christian charity: those who take different positions regarding this issue have often been the bearers of compassionate pastoral care to homosexual persons, though we must confess some failure in this regard.  We come from different backgrounds, contexts and experiences.  As Bishops we need to repent of the ways in which our hardness of heart toward each other may have contributed to the brokenness of our Communion at this present time. We need to repent of statements and actions that have further damaged the dignity of homosexual persons. People who have held traditional views on this matter have sometimes felt that they have been dismissed with ridicule or contempt.

108. There were repeated statements of the desire to remain in communion while attempting to maintain a generous space for ongoing discussions. Although there has been a great appreciation of one to one conversations, there is the need to develop further trust in the relationships that have started here. In addition to previous expressions of regret by both the House of Bishops and the General Convention of The Episcopal Church[29], some individual bishops of The Episcopal Church have expressed apologies in their groups, noting that they had not previously grasped the depth of the negative impact that their action in the consecration of a bishop living in a same gender union had caused in many parts of the Communion.

109. There were several references to the Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10, although it sometimes appeared that only one section was being referenced and not the whole report on Human Sexuality to the 1998 Lambeth Conference or the whole resolution.

110. There is confusion about what “the issue” really means. There are three aspects that would help to clarify discussions:

  • How the church evangelizes, disciples and provides pastoral care for homosexual people;
  • How and on what basis the church admits people to Sacred Orders;
  • How the church deals with the first two locally and globally.

                
111. The issue of homosexual relations is as sensitive as it is because it conflicts with the long tradition of Christian moral teaching.  For some, the new teaching cannot be acceptable on biblical grounds as they consider all homosexual activity as intrinsically sinful.  Tension has arisen when those who hold the traditional teaching are faced with changes in the Church’s life or teaching without being able to understand or engage with a clear presentation of how people have come to a new understanding of scripture and pastoral theology.

112. The whole issue of homosexual relations is also highly sensitive because there are very strong affirmations and denials in different cultures across the world which are reflected in contrasting civil provisions, ranging from legal provision for same-sex marriage to criminal action against homosexuals. In some parts of the Communion, homosexual relations are a taboo while in others they have become a human rights issue.

113. In the framework of the bishop in mission, it is agreed that the ordination of a bishop living in a same gender union has compromised mission in many parts of the Communion and has had a profoundly disruptive effect on the Communion by detracting from other aspects of mission. There is anxiety that this will not turn out to be a single act but something that is likely to happen again and further compromise mission.

114. For some, the way the Communion has been perceived to handle polygamy has complicated the issue. Polygamy has been part of the history and of the present of some Provinces of the Communion. It is unacceptable in other parts of the Communion. The Communion made a space for such Provinces to deal with this issue at their local level. This they have done, setting clear standards while providing pastoral attention. The question from some is: why can we not make the same space in regard to homosexuality? In the case of polygamy, there is a universal standard – it is understood to be a sin, therefore polygamists are not admitted to positions of leadership including Holy Orders, nor after acceptance of the Gospel can a convert take another wife, nor, in some areas, are they admitted to Holy Communion.

115. There have been many aspects of the history of this current situation that have brought us to this point in time. In some parts of the Communion the issue of homosexuality has been under discussion for over thirty years, whereas for others it is a more recent conversation. In other places, there are legal or cultural reasons which constrain dialogue. In some Provinces, the acceptance of homosexual practice would be seen as a betrayal of the teaching of the missionaries who brought the faith, and experienced as a new form of colonialism.  In the time frame of Christianity, or even of the Anglican tradition, there has not been enough time to allow for the Bishops of the Communion to come to a new consensus within Provinces or worldwide – either to agree, or to live together in disagreement.

116. The issue of homosexuality has challenged us and our Churches on what it might mean to be a Communion. We are still learning how to be the Communion that God has called and gifted us to be.

117. For many Anglicans, the ordination of a bishop living in a same gender union is seen as questioning the authority of scripture and the Church’s traditional reading on these matters.  It calls into question traditional moral teaching concerning the nature of marriage. The question for many is "Whether the Bible transforms the culture or the culture is allowed to transform the Bible".

118.  The ordination of a bishop living in a same gender union and the open blessing of same sex relationships has had many negative results including:

  • Partnership in mission is lost and damaged, as we are diverted from our primary focus. In some places the church is ridiculed as the "gay church", so membership is lost. In some regions the issue has become a test of orthodoxy and a basis for hostile actions.
  • Ecumenical and interfaith relationships have been damaged.  Some ecumenical participants present underscored this point.
  • Bishops cannot be a symbol of unity when their consecration itself divides the church. The unique focus for catholicity in the Communion is lost. Confidence in the validity of the Anglican Communion, the bonds of affection and our mutual interdependence is severely damaged.
  • It is dishonouring to former Lambeth Conference decisions.

119. It was also reported that there has been positive effects in parts of Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Mexico and Central America and in other parts of the world when homosexual people are accepted as God’s children, are treated with dignity and choose to give their lives to Christ and to live in the community of faith as disciples of Jesus Christ with fidelity and commitment.

Possible Ways Ahead

120. There are competing visions of how the Communion should responsibly handle our current situation:

  • “If your eye cause offence, pluck it out[30]” - decisive action
  •  “Let God be God” - allow God to transform our attitudes and behaviour while we look for further insights.
  • "If it is from God it will last"[31] -  Gamaliel's advice can be followed here, so wait.
  • Some people are looking for a clear direction from the Communion, and from this conference in the form of a pastoral letter or direction.
  • More "listening” is needed where the purpose is not "I win, you lose", but "Nobody wins, nobody loses" and we grow together in Christ.
  • Ongoing dialogue itself is a "Christian witness".  The Communion needs a 'catholic patience'.
  • Further careful study of the Scriptures, theology, doctrine and other disciplines, such as theological anthropology, must be pursued together through a formal Commission at Communion-wide level.  This would equip the bishops in their teaching office.
  • Give pastoral care but do not canonize, regularize, legalize or endorse homosexual relationships.
  • Cross-provincial and diocesan intervention must stop to create the time and space for the Spirit of God to “lead us into all truth”.  The perspectives of bishops and dioceses need to be heard and respected.
  • Legal action in the courts should be avoided if at all possible.
  • Reaffirm the moral authority of the whole of the Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1:10, and the report commended in it, and continue its implementation, but not the style of debate that led to it. Acknowledge that some good work has been done on the resolution such as the development of listening processes, and the intentional development of closer relations among bishops and dioceses.
  • Declare a “Decade of Sharing and Generosity” and keep walking, keep talking, keep listening together.

Resources

The Anglican Communion and Homosexuality – A resource to enable listening and dialogue, edited by Philip Groves; published by SPCK, 2008.

Resources on sexuality and the Listening Process, together with material from the Provinces are also available through the Anglican Communion website. http://www.anglicancommunion.org/listening

For creating safe space for listening, go to www.dontthrowstones.info

Lambeth I.10 text may be found at http://www.lambethconference.org/resolutions/1998/1998-1-10.cfm
The report of Section 1 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference on Human Sexuality is published in The Official Report of the Lambeth Conference 1998, Morehouse, 1999, pp.93,94

The Episcopal Church House of Bishops statement may be found at
http://www.anglicancommunion.org/acns/news.cfm/2007/9/26/ACNS4322

The resolutions of the General Convention 2006 may be found at
http://gc2006.org/legislation/view_leg_detail.aspx?id=201&type=CURRENT

Notes:

27. Matthew 7:1-5

28. See box below.

29. Matthew 5:29

30. Acts 5.38, 39

31. John 1:1-18

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