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Religious groups & homosexuality/homophobia


The Anglican Church of Canada
and equality for gays & lesbians

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  • Archbishop Terence Finlay, retired bishop of the Anglican diocese of Toronto and metropolitan (senior bishop) of Ontario, following his suspension for officiating at a legal same-sex marriage: "As an active bishop I've followed and I've upheld the oaths of the office that I took and particularly around the issue of unity in the church. But for me now, this issue has moved from one of unity to one of justice."

  • Rev. Isaac Kawuki-Mukasa, co-ordinator for dialogue: ethics, inter-faith relations, and congregational development for faith, worship and ministry: "[General Synod 2007 asked  the faith, worship and ministry committee to] engage the church in conversation on the broad issue of human sexuality in all of its complexity, using the lenses of scripture, reason, tradition and science,”

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The Anglican Church of Canada (a.k.a. ACC, and l'Église Anglicane du Canada) is part of a world-wide Anglican Communion which includes the Episcopal Church, USA in the United States, the Church of England in England, and dozens of other provinces.

In the 2001 census, about 2 million Canadian adults (6.9%) identified themselves as Anglicans. The ACC has 800,000 registered members spread across its 30 dioceses. They are the fourth largest religious group in the country, behind the Roman Catholic Church, persons of no religion, and those identifying with the United Church of Canada.

Priests in the Anglican Communion have blessed marriages, dogs, cats, buildings, apartments, houses, boats, cars, etc. However, as of 2012-OCT, most are not permitted to bless the relationships of committed, loving, same-sex couples, except in a few maverick dioceses. A same-sex couple with a valid marriage license from their Canadian province or territory will be turned away if they ask their priest to marry them.

The General Synod meets every three years and is made up of lay persons, priests and bishops from each diocese.

Historically, major ethical conflicts like the abolition of slavery, decriminalization of contraceptives, ordination of women, permitting inter-racial marriage, etc. have been settled first by liberal/progressive religious faith groups, and eventually by conservative groups. Blessings of same-sex relationships and ordination of priests who are in committed same-sex relationships are already permitted within a few liberal faith groups in Canada -- notably the United Church of Canada and congregations affiliated with the Canadian Unitarian Council. Change of these policies have not begun to be considered by conservative Christian faith groups. It is the mainline denominations in North America which are under extreme stress over whether to grant equal rights for gays and lesbians. This conflict is threatening to split the Anglican Church of Canada and other denominations.

The growing schism within the worldwide Anglican Communion offers an excellent example of the influence of local culture on religious beliefs:

  • Those Anglicans in Africa and other countries who despise homosexuals and homosexuality are demanding that all provinces in the Communion actively discriminate against homosexuals and bisexuals.

  • Those Anglicans in North America and other countries that are beginning to accept homosexuality as a normal, natural sexual orientation for a minority of adults are advocating equal treatment for persons of all sexual orientations.

Yet both groups base their beliefs largely on the Bible: the former group on a literal interpretation of the six "clobber" passages so often used to oppress gays lesbians and bisexuals; the latter group on very different interpretation of those same clobber passages. For example:

  • Conservatives generally interpret Genesis 19 as implying God's dissatisfaction on all forms of same-sex sexual behavior that was so intense that he destroyed every elderly person, younger adults, youth, child, infant and newborn in Sodom because of the intent of the men in the city to have sex with three male visitors.

  • Liberals generally interpret Genesis 19 as condemning attempted rape.

Liberals also base their acceptance of loving, committed same-sex relationships on the Bible's themes of justice and love, the acceptance of the findings of human sexuality researchers, and the conclusions of psychologists and psychiatrists.

The 2007 General Synod asked  the Anglican Church of Canada's Faith, Worship and Ministry Committee to "... engage the church in conversation on the broad issue of human sexuality in all of its complexity, using the lenses of scripture, reason, tradition and science." [Emphasis ours] These are the four traditional criteria that the Anglican Communion has used in the past when faced with conflict over policy. However, it is a recipe for difficulty, if not disaster, because there is often disagreement over:

  • Whether a specific passage in scripture was only valid for a particular era, like the first century CE, or whether it is still equally valid today.

  • How to handle a situation where reason and personal experience leads in a different direction from that of scripture and tradition. Which criteria should be given priority?

  • Whether church tradition is a useful criteria to give much weight to in a time of great cultural change, and a great increase in knowledge about human sexuality.

  • How to handle a situation where science points in a very different direction from both church tradition and a literal interpretation of certain biblical passages; who wins out?

  • How does one weigh scriptural demands for love, caring, and justice with passages that exclude, demean and even call for execution of sexual minorities.

Provinces within the Anglican Communion have handled conflicts involving major change in the past, notably over the morality of human slavery, the status of women, female ordination as priests, female consecration as bishops. Each time, their decision advanced equality, civil rights, and justice for women or minorities. Eventually, the Communion has emerged from the conflicts strengthened. A few generations after each decision, very few if any Anglicans would be willing to reverse the change. However, the conflict over acceptance of homosexuality is a particularly difficult one to settle. The unity of the Communion and even the unity with some Provinces are threatened with schism.

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Copyright © 1999 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2013-SEP-18
Author: B.A. Robinson

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