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THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION AND HOMOSEXUALITY

Formation of the "Lambeth Commission on Communion"
(a.k.a. LCC or
the Eames Commission)

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Background information:

Primates and bishops from the Anglican Communion's 38 provinces attend Lambeth Conferences every 10 years in England.  They provide an opportunity for all the various national churches of the Anglican tradition to gather and resolve conflicts over faith and social policy. In 1988, the most divisive topic was women's ordination. Only a few national churches had ordained women to the priesthood by that time; none had taken the next logical step and consecrated female bishops.

Allowing women to be ordained was considered a very schismatic issue at the time. The Eames Commission was formed to make certain that conflict over the issue did not escalate to the point where one or more provinces broke away from the Anglican Communion. None ever did. A monitoring group which has succeeded that Commission has found that female ordination has largely become a non-issue. Some opposition remains among a minority of provinces.  By 1998, most provinces of the Anglican Communion now ordain women and seven have consecrated women priests as bishops. As of 1998-JUL, there are eleven female bishops in the Communion.

A new Eames Commission, formally called the Lambeth Commission on Communion was created by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury -- the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion. Its basic goal is to prevent schism of the Communion over the question of homosexuality.

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Recent developments

bullet1999-SEP: U.S. Conference: The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) concluded in Dundee, Scotland on 1999-SEP-24. An announcement was made at the Council that a group of Anglican bishops will meet in New York later in 1999 for a "consultation" on homosexuality. The intent was to have bishops at the meeting who represents "all shades of opinion" on the matter. 
bullet1999-OCT-8: Gay rights in parts of Africa: The Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church in the USA, Frank T Griswold, issued a statement in his capacity as the Presiding Bishop on Human Rights for Homosexual Persons. He "read with alarm and deep concern accounts of statements by the presidents of Kenya, Uganda, and Zimbabwe which have become a provocation for the harassment and persecution of homosexual persons...Within the Anglican Communion we are seeking to discern a common mind on the issue of homosexuality in the life of the church. However, regardless of one's views on the matter, there should be no debate among us about human rights for all people - which are enshrined in the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights." [Author's note: Actually, the UDHR does not mentioned sexual orientation as a protected class.]
bullet2000-FEB-21: Bishops' meeting in Portugal: A week-long meeting of bishops from around the world was announced, to be held in Portugal, starting on 2000-MAR-22. According to a ReligionToday news summary, the leader of the Anglican church worldwide, the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, said that he holds traditional view of human sexuality and the family. He believes that "a vast majority" of bishops worldwide do so as well. However, he wants to consider the ideas of "faithful Christians, some of whom are homosexual themselves," who are challenging the Church's teaching on human sexuality because "they have felt excluded from the Church for many years."
bullet2000-FEB-20: Irregular consecration of two bishops: The Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, issued a letter to the primates of the Anglican communion which described "the recent consecration in Singapore of two priests of the Episcopal Church of the United States as bishops by the Archbishop of South East Asia and the Archbishop of Rwanda." The intent of the consecration was to create two bishop-missionaries to the United States. Movement towards equal treatment of persons of all sexual orientations within the Episcopal Church has alarmed religious conservatives. The Archbishop stated that: "neither the constitution of the Province of South East Asia nor that of the Episcopal Church of Rwanda, to whose primates John Rodgers and Charles Murphy have sworn an oath of canonical obedience, have been followed. In addition, Anglican polity requires that ordained ministers should be properly authorised to pursue their ministry in the Province within which they wish to work, and according to the Canon law of that Province. It appears that this is not the intention in this case, and it is doubtful in the present circumstances whether such authorisation would be forthcoming." Archbishop Carey is withholding recognition of Rodgers and Murphy as bishops. 1 According to ReligionToday, "Anglican Primate of Canada Michael Peers said the action is 'an open and premeditated assault on Anglican tradition, catholic order, and Christian charity.' Bishops are to be chosen and approved by local churches within a province, then ordained by bishops with authority in that province, he said. 'Bishops are not intercontinental ballistic missiles, manufactured on one continent and fired into another as an act of aggression.' " 2
bullet2000-MAR-20: Reform groups in the USA:The American Anglican Council, a conservative reform group from Dallas TX issued a statement stating that they believe that the worldwide Anglican Communion faces "a grave moment" in which "nothing less than the integrity of the Gospel and the future of the church is at stake." Their concern centers around ordination of sexually active homosexuals, and the blessing of homosexual unions in the U.S. However, they feel that these are symptomatic of a much deeper problem. A second conservative group, Georgia-based Concerned Clergy and Laity of the Episcopal Church, states: "Today, there are two religions in the Episcopal Church. One remains faithful to the biblical truth and received teachings of the Church, while the other rejects them." The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. (ECUSA), Frank Griswold, disagrees. He feels that the church is not in crisis; a recent survey shows that most members are satisfied. He criticizes conservative elements within the denomination of pushing an anti-homosexual agenda. 

Anglican archbishops gather in Oporto, Portugal for a six day conference starting MAR-23. 3
bullet2000-MAR-22: Follow-up: Irregular consecration of two bishops: Bishop John Rodgers now heads an Association of Anglican Congregations on Mission in Chicago IL. He now oversees about six churches. Bishop Charles Murphy heads First Promise and oversees a few American churches that he has aligned with the Province of Rwanda. 3
bullet2000-MAR-28: Follow-up: Bishops' meeting in Portugal: According to ReligionToday, Irish Archbishop Robin Eames is the meeting's official spokesman. He has commented that "dignified anger" and "disgust" have been expressed by conservatives about the liberal attitudes towards gays and lesbians being advanced in parts of the Anglican community -- most noticeably in the U.S. 2 In the Final Communiqué, the bishops included a some material relating to homosexuality:
bulletThe communiqué states: "For some, new life in Jesus Christ, the movement from darkness to light, necessarily involves the recognition that homosexuality is part of the brokenness of human life which needs to be healed by the power of the Gospel. Consequently, integrity and effectiveness in evangelism will require a clear stand on issues such as homosexuality. So, the differing views expressed or implied in the practice of other Provinces are experienced as actively hurtful to and undermining of mission." This appears to say that some within the Anglican communion regard a homosexual orientation as a disorder or disease -- something that can be changed or "healed." They apparently believe that the church must be undivided in its beliefs and practices towards gays and lesbians.
bulletThe communiqué continues: "For others, even if they share a traditional interpretation of Biblical ethics, this should not be identified as the question on which the Church's integrity depends. In their situations mission would be held back in a context where the Church is seen to be too concerned with sexual matters at the expense of other crucial issues." This appears to say that others in the communion feel that there is an excessive concentration on sexual matters within the communion. 
bulletThe bishops seem to have made no reference to a third group: those who feel that a homosexual orientation is not chosen, is unchangeable and is a normal, natural minority sexual orientation. From those beliefs, this third group frequently concludes that persons of all sexual orientations should receive full human rights, be given access to membership and ordination within the church, and have their marriages and unions recognized.
bulletNear the end of the communiqué, the text refers to developments within the Episcopal church in the U.S.: "We believe that the disagreement over sexual ethics and differences in the reception of Lambeth Resolution I.10 that clearly exists within and among the Provinces does not necessarily amount to a complete and definitive rupture of communion. However, it has caused very great concern in many parts of the Communion that the Lambeth Resolution I.10 which was overwhelmingly adopted by bishops at Lambeth '98 has been rejected in some dioceses of our Church. Such clear and public repudiation of those sections of the Resolution related to the public blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of declared non-celibate homosexuals, and the declared intention of some dioceses to proceed with such actions, have come to threaten the unity of the communion in a profound way. We strongly urge such dioceses to weigh the effects of their actions, and to listen to the expressions of pain, anger and perplexity from other parts of the Communion. We urge all bishops to recognise that further public actions of the kind mentioned above strain the reality of mutual accountability in a global Communion, where what may seem obvious and appropriate in one context may be harmful and unacceptable in another. Nevertheless, Resolution I.10 and the Section Report which accompanied it also calls on us all to listen to the experience of homosexuals in the Church. We endorse the Archbishop of Canterbury's concern in his letter to the bishops of the Communion (Feb 17th 2000) to encourage dialogue between those who hold that the Church's historic teaching on this matter is so clearly evident in scripture as to be fixed and final and those who  are not convinced that the Bible speaks at all clearly to the questions currently before us. Such listening does not prejudge the outcome for the Church. But a careful, patient and pastoral process must be encouraged; it is not created by the demonising of opponents or by overheated, politicised and polarised language in our conflicts."
bullet2002-JUL-24: New head of the Anglican Communion appointed: Rowan Williams, currently the Archbishop of Wales, is the new Archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual leader of 70 million Anglicans worldwide. He will replace George Cary who had a tumultuous task overseeing the Anglican Communion during a time when the once all-male priesthood was changed. Under Cary's leadership, females were ordained as priests and later consecrated as bishops.

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' past 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. 4 
bullet2002-JUL: Archbishop rejects blessing of gay unions: During an address at Oxford University, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. George Carey, departed from his prepared speech. He discussed a prior decision by the New Westminster diocese in British Columbia, Canada. In 2001-JUN, the diocese's governing body -- the synod -- voted 63% in favor of blessing gay and lesbian unions. To our knowledge, this is the first diocese in the entire Anglican Communion to take this step. Carey said that the diocese's decision was schismatic because it divides the Anglican Communion and "makes us a very embarrassing partner in ecumenical circles." 7
bullet2002-SEP: Comments by the current Archbishop of Canterbury, George Cary: He is the spiritual leader of 70 million Anglicans worldwide. He had the tumultuous task of overseeing the Anglican Communion during a time when the long-lasting tradition of an all-male priesthood was changed. Under Cary's leadership, females were ordained as priests. Later, they became eligible to be consecrated as bishops. This change came close to inducing a schism in the Communion.

In mid-September, Dr. Cary warned that the Anglican Communion was on the brink of a fundamental split over the issue of homosexuality. He noted the trend "towards serious fragmentation and the real possibility of two - or, more likely, many more - distinct Anglican bodies emerging....This erosion of communion through the adoption of 'local options' has been going for some 30 years but in my opinion is reaching crisis proportions today."

Dr Carey has condemned both:
bulletThe "schism" created by traditionalists and evangelicals in reaction to the actions of a number of liberal bishops -- particularly over homosexuality.
bulletLiberal forces within the Community for refusing to desist in such actions as blessing the unions of gay and lesbian couples. 5

bullet2002-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:
bulletTo "abstain from sexual relations outside holy [heterosexual] matrimony",
bulletTo support "appropriate discipline" where necessary and
bulletTo 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

bullet2003-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
bullet2003-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.
bullet2003-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
bullet2003-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.
bullet2003-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
bullet2004-SEP-30: LLC report completed: The Eames Commission completed its report and has presented it to the Archbishop of Canterbury
bullet2004-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) was released to the public. 12
bullet2005-FEB 20: Primates scheduled to meet: The Primates of the Anglican Communion met in Belfast, Northern Ireland to discuss and make decisions regarding the Eames Commission report. 12

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References:

  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/Archive/FeatureStory/
  3. "Anglicans confronted with fractured American church," Maranatha Christian Journal, 2000-MAR-22, at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/00/20000322b.htm
  4. "Controversial liberal named as next leader of Anglican church," Yahoo News at: http://sg.news.yahoo.com/020723/1/30stn.html
  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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Author: B.A. Robinson

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