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The Anglican Communion and homosexuality

Recent developments: 2002 to 2005

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This is a continuation from an earlier essay.

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Recent developments

bullet 2002-OCT: Conflict over the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams: He is currently the Archbishop of Wales and will be installed as the new Archbishop of Canterbury in 2003-JAN. Because the UK lacks separation of church and state, Prime Minister Tony Blair chose Williams from a list of two submitted by a special commission after months of secret debate. Queen Elizabeth later approved the appointment formally. A spokesperson for Tony Blair praised Williams' "wisdom, intellectual stature and deep spirituality [qualities which would be] invaluable as he seeks to lead the Anglican church in ever more complex and challenging times". The spokesperson added: "The government may not always agree with everything that is said (by senior members of the church) but people are perfectly at liberty to express their views." Williams has backed a gradual separation of church and state in England. The Reverend Richard Kirker, general secretary of the lesbian and gay Christian movement, welcomed Williams' support for homosexual rights. Kirker said: "Dr Williams' commitment to justice and dignity for all people including lesbians and gay men gives us great heart. Under his leadership homophobia will be challenged and intolerance rooted out."

Some conservative elements from within the Anglican Community are displeased with the selection of Williams. Most vocal among the opposition is "Reform", a conservative Evangelical network of more than 500 clergy and the Rt Rev Wallace Benn -- suffragan Bishop of Lewes. They said that they would not welcome Dr. Williams because of his "non-biblical" views. Reform has stated: "Even shortly before the appointment, he publicly said he is 'not convinced that a homosexual has to be celibate in every imaginable circumstance'." Williams has admitted ordaining as a priest a sexually-active homosexual. They have asked him to resign "for the sake of the Church's gospel witness and unity" unless he is willing to condemn any and all sexual behavior outside of a one-man, one-woman marriage. This, of course, would include sexual activity within a loving, committed gay or lesbian relationship. 3 They have asked that he affirm and defend church teaching:

bullet To "abstain from sexual relations outside holy [heterosexual] matrimony",

bullet To support "appropriate discipline" where necessary and

bullet To ordain only those who uphold and live by this teaching.

Rev Richard Kirker, spokesperson for the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement said: "The presumptuous self-righteous tone of Reform simply beggars belief and will, I suspect, make them even more isolated than they already are in the Anglican Church." 6

bullet

2002-OCT-21: Archbishop repeats rejection of blessing of gay unions: At a meeting on 2002-OCT-21 at the University of Toronto's Wycliffe College, Carey said: "I want to plead with the {Canadian] House of Bishops to go very carefully, to find a way that the decision in New Westminster can be overruled....If more and more dioceses take this approach, it's going to undermine the unity of the Anglican Communion and I don't know if the Canadian Church can afford to pay the deep price...Some may have no alternative but to look for spiritual help elsewhere." Talking later to reporters, he downplayed the importance of this issue. He said: "This is not a life-or-death issue. This restless, angry, confused world has such major problems facing it...I'm not absolutist on the issue of homosexuality. I don't know how anyone can be, but there is so much we don't know...Maybe with new knowledge, we can wake up to new interpretations." 7 This meeting ocurred at approximately the 50th anniversary of pioneering work by Evelyn Hooker who showed that homosexual orientation was not a mental illness, but merely an alternate sexual orientation for a minority of adults. It was approximately 30 years since the American Psychological Association removed homosexual orientation from its list of mental illnesses.

bullet 2003-MAY-27: Primates meet in Brazil: The Anglican primates who head the 38 Provinces of the Anglican Communion around the world met in Brazil for a closed-door meeting. They reached a decision that "there is no theological consensus about same-sex unions. Therefore, we as a body cannot support the authorization of such rites." The Associated Press reported that the primates committed to " 'respect the integrity' of the self-governing national churches and their local dioceses. They also acknowledged bishops' responsibility to meet 'the pastoral needs of minorities'." Rev. Michael Hopkins, a American supporter of church blessings for same-sex unions, said that he thinks that the U.S. Episcopal Church could approve same-sex rites at its convention later in 2003. He said that the primates are "preparing the world for it to happen, if it does." 8

bullet 2003-MAY-29: Same-sex unions to be blessed in Canada: Bishop  Michael Ingham of the New Westminster Synod in British Columbia, Canada, authorized six Anglican parishes to use a special rite to bless same-sex unions. More details.

bullet 2003-JUL-7: Gay priest appointed as bishop declines the post: Rev. Jeffrey John, a celibate priest, decided to not to take up his post. He wrote that he made his decision because of "the damage my consecration might cause to the unity of the Church." The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said the decision should give Anglicans "pause for thought...This has been a time of open and painful confrontation. We need now to give ourselves the proper opportunities honestly to think through what has happened and to find what God has been teaching us." Several bishops said his appointment violated church teaching that gay sex is "incompatible with Scripture." They apparently did not differentiate between sexually active and celibate gays. 9

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bullet 2003-JUL-24: Primates and bishops appear ready to split Anglican Communion: Evangelical Anglicans from all over the world met recently in Washington DC for a two day meeting. Seven primates and a number of bishops who represent most of the 75 million members of the Anglican communion subsequently issued a letter demanding that Canon Gene Robinson's election as bishop of New Hampshire be rejected by the Episcopal Church's general convention. This is because Robinson is a gay male in a committed relationship. If his election is confirmed, then this group is "prepared to respond." They threaten to convene an "extraordinary meeting" involving the leaders of most of the Communion's 38 provinces to deal with a "dramatic realignment." 10 More details.

bullet 2003-OCT-28: Lambeth Commission on Communion (LCC) created: The Archbishop of Canterbury was appointed to lead a 16-member commission to report on "understandings of communion" that unite Anglicans around the world. It is to be led by Archbishop Robin Eames of Ireland. Addressing a meeting of the Compass Rose Society, Archbishop Eames said: "We will try under God to provide channels on communication, channels of understanding, but most of all a path forward...Please pray for me." He asked that Anglicans "recognize...what binds us together more than what may divide some of us." Speaking of the Primates' meeting in London, OCT-15/16, he had said that "no matter what views they expressed, the bottom line was, let us remain in Communion." 11

bullet 2004-SEP-30: LLC report completed: The Eames Commission has completed its report and has presented it to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

bullet 2004-OCT-18: The Eames Commission Report: The report on the future of the Anglican Communion, whose formal name is the "Lambeth Commission on Communion" (LCC) is released to the public. 12

bullet 2005-FEB 20: Primates scheduled to meet: The Primates of the Anglican Communion will meet in Belfast, Northern Ireland to discuss and make decisions regarding the Eames Commission report. 12

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. George Carey, "Letter to the primates of the Anglican communion," ACNS 2037, issued 2000-FEB-20
  2. "Episcopalians face liberal-conservative split," at: http://www.religiontoday.com/
  3. "Anglicans confronted with fractured American church," Maranatha Christian Journal, 2000-MAR-22, at: http://www.mcjonline.com/
  4. "Controversial liberal named as next leader of Anglican church," Yahoo News at: http://sg.news.yahoo.com/
  5. Jonathan Petre, "Carey warns of Church split on gays," 2002-SEP-17, at: http://www.dailytelegraph.co.uk/
  6. Jonathan Petre, "Denounce gays or quit, church body tells Williams," Daily Telegraph, at:  http://www.dailytelegraph.co.uk/
  7. Leslie Schrivener, "Bishops urged to overrule B.C. diocese on gay unions," The Toronto Star, 2002-OCT-22, Page A23.
  8. Richard Ostling, "Anglican Bishops Reject Gay Unions," Associated Press, 2003-MAY-27, at: http://www.philly.com/mld/
  9. "Gay Bishop Says He Will Not Take Post," LATimes, 2003-JUL-7, at: http://www.latimes.com/news/
  10. Jonathan Petre, "American gay bishop 'would shatter Church'," Telegraph.co.uk, 2003-JUL-24, at:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/
  11. Bob Williams, "Archbishop Eames pledges 'path forward' as commission named to look at 'Communion' uniting Anglicans," Anglican Communion News Service, 2003-OCT-28, at: http://www.anglicancommunion.org/
  12. The Rev. Canon David C. Anderson, newsletter of The American Anglican Council, 2004-SEP.

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