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Anglican Communion splits over homosexuality

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In 2003-OCT, The Lambeth Commission on Communion was created to find ways in which Anglicans can agree to disagree by preventing schism of the Communion over the question of homosexuality. On 2004-OCT-18 the Commission's 92 page Windsor Report was released to the public. It called for dialogue, sensitivity to each other's beliefs, attempts to reach compromises over homosexuality, while striving to keep the Anglican Communion united. 1,2

Bishop Frank Griswold, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, USA was optimistic about the outcome of the Primates' meeting during 2005-FEB. He said: "I can’t imagine a conversation saying we got it wrong. I can see a conversation saying we should have been more aware of the effect that the decisions we took would have in other places." 5 Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada was similarly hopeful that the primates' meeting would have a "moderating influence" on the debate. 6

Almost all of the heads of the 38 Anglican Provinces (national churches) met during 2005-FEB. The primates, in effect, rejected the Windsor Report. For the first time in history, they "intervened in other provinces and requested that" 5 the Episcopal Church, USA and the Anglican Church of Canada  withdraw from the Anglican Consultative Council until the next Lambeth Conference of 2008. This is the key body which facilitates contact among the 38 provinces.

In effect, the primates have ejected the two North American churches from worldwide Anglican Community. The Anglican Communion survived internal conflicts in:

bullet The 19th century over the abolition of human slavery,
bullet In the early 20th century over birth control, and
bullet In the late 20th century over the right of women to be considered for ordination.

But it seems to have not been able to survive an internal conflict over the treatment of homosexuals in the Communion.

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The Primates' meeting of 2005-FEB-20 to 25:

Thirty five primates met at the Dromantine Retreat and Conference Centre in Newry, Northern Ireland. Three primates -- those of Burundi, Hong Kong, and North India -- were unable to attend the meeting.

The primates initiated the first major split of the Anglican Communion. They asked the Episcopal Church, USA and the Anglican Church of Canada to withdraw from a core structure of the Anglican Communion: the Anglican Consultative Council. It is a key body which facilitates contact among the 38 provinces. The Council is one of the four "instruments of unity" within the Communion. The other three are: The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Lambeth Conference and the Primates' Meeting.

Having asked the two North American churches to withdraw from the Anglican Consultative Council, the Primates then asked the Council to organize a meeting in 2005-JUN at which the two provinces would be asked explain their beliefs about homosexuality. 3

It appears that the Windsor Report's suggestions of dialogue and consultation are falling on deaf ears.

A communiqué was issued which said, in part:

bullet "Many primates have been deeply alarmed that the standard of Christian teaching on matters of human sexuality expressed in the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10, ...has been seriously undermined by the recent developments in North America. At the same time, it is acknowledged that these developments within the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada have proceeded entirely in accordance with their constitutional processes and requirements. We also wish to make it quite clear that in our discussion and assessment of the moral appropriateness of specific human behaviours, we continue unreservedly to be committed to the pastoral support and care of homosexual people. The victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us."
bullet "We welcome the general thrust of the Windsor Report as offering a way forward for the mutual life of our Communion, and commend the following conclusions for dealing with the differences of opinion which have opened up amongst us."
bullet "...the Windsor its Sections A & B...speak of the central place Anglicans accord to the authority of scripture, and of 'autonomy-in-communion' as the balanced exercise of the inter-dependence between the thirty-eight Provinces and their legitimate provincial autonomy. We therefore request all provinces to consider whether they are willing to be committed to the inter-dependent life of the Anglican Communion understood in the terms set out in these sections of the report."
bullet "We as a body continue to address the situations which have arisen in North America with the utmost seriousness. Whilst there remains a very real question about whether the North American churches are willing to accept the same teaching on matters of sexual morality as is generally accepted elsewhere in the Communion, the underlying reality of our communion in God the Holy Trinity is obscured, and the effectiveness of our common mission severely hindered."
bullet "Within the ambit of the issues discussed in the Windsor Report and in order to recognise the integrity of all parties, we request that the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada voluntarily withdraw their members from the Anglican Consultative Council for the period leading up to the next Lambeth Conference [in 2008]. During that same period we request that both churches respond through their relevant constitutional bodies to the questions specifically addressed to them in the Windsor Report as they consider their place within the Anglican Communion."
bullet "...we encourage the Anglican Consultative Council to organise a hearing at its meeting in Nottingham, England, in June 2005 at which representatives of the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada, invited for that specific purpose, may have an opportunity to set out the thinking behind the recent actions of their Provinces, in accordance with paragraph 141 of the Windsor Report.
bullet "...we ask our fellow primates to use their best influence to persuade their brothers and sisters to exercise a moratorium on public Rites of Blessing for Same-sex unions and on the consecration of any bishop living in a sexual relationship outside Christian marriage." 4

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Reactions to the Primates' communiqué by Anglican leaders:

bullet The Most Rev. Henry Luke Orombi, Archbishop of Church of Uganda. He issued a press statment on MAR-03 stating: "In our Ireland meeting the Primates suspended the Episcopal Church of America and the Canadian Church until they repent. We are committed to other members of the Episcopal Church who are orthodox in their interpretation of the scriptures and adore Jesus Christ as their savior and Lord. We continue to provide support for them because they share with us in the same mission."
bullet The Most Rev. Andrew S. Hutchison, Archbishop/Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada said in a FEB-25 statement: "The Primates' communiqué is not a perfect document and no doubt there will be a variety of interpretations."
bullet The Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburgh and moderator of the conservative Anglican Communion Network (ACN) issued a press statment on MAR-04, stating: "Let me assure you that the Primates of the Anglican Communion have decisively addressed theological innovations contrary to Anglican teaching and practice and have intervened in our situation in a powerful way. The Primates are clear in upholding the tenets of Lambeth 1.10 as the Communion’s teaching on human sexuality. They also recognize, however, that sexuality is only the presenting symptom. The core disease is a challenge to the authority of Scripture and received Christian teaching."
bullet Bishop Michael Ingham, of the Anglican Church of Canada's New Westminster Diocese, said in a MAR-01 statement: "The Primates' call for the Canadian and American churches 'to consider voluntary withdrawal' from the next three meetings from the ACC is carefully worded, and intended to appease the angriest voices in the Communion, but it should be firmly resisted by both churches."
bullet Rev. John Guernsey, ACN dean of the Mid-Atlantic Convocation issued a press statement on MAR-03 on behalf of ACN deans: "The landscape of the Communion has been changed radically by the Primates."
bullet Bishop Charles Jenkins, Head of Southeast Louisiana Diocese was quoted as saying: "...[W]e want to be loyal Episcopalians and loyal Anglicans. We don’t want an either-or situation thrust before us. I think what we’re going to have to find is a more excellent way, which we don’t yet know."
bullet Anglican Essentials Canada, a conservative group, issued a press release on FEB-26 stating: "...there is no more dramatic action that could have been taken...Clearly, there is before the Anglican Church of Canada the need to make a choice. Restoration to full communion requires repentance. The failure to do so implies the choice to walk alone outside the worldwide Anglican Communion."
bullet Rev. William L. Murdoch, New England dean of the ACN, wrote: "The spin -– that things aren’t so bad, and this is not that big a deal –- is not going to work. The fracture of the Anglican Communion is still very much a great and terrible threat upon us right now." 5

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Reactions to the Primates' communiqué by gay and lesbian support groups:

bullet Rev. Richard Kirker of The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) wrote on FEB-25 in a press release: "Of concern is:...the attempt to portray the American and Canadian Church as particularly responsible for the current tensions in the Anglican Church when, in fact, the responsibility lies with all those other Provinces which have failed for 30 years to listen adequately to the voices of lesbian and gay Christians."
bullet The Advisory Board of Oasis/California -- the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of California -- placed this statement on their web site: "It is simply impossible for us to declare 'unclean' what God has declared 'clean' and ask our gay brothers and lesbian sisters to return to the closet ...[We] call the Church to repentance for its ambivalence regarding the human dignity and sacramental equality of all God’s children."
bullet Integrity USA issued a press statement on FEB-24, stating: "We are again encouraged that [the call for a moratorium on same-sex blessings] is presented as voluntary... It is only a matter of time until another diocese is moved by the Holy Spirit to call another gay or lesbian person to be their bishop." 5

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Response of the Episcopal Church, USA:

According to the Washington Post: "While U.S. bishops have repeatedly called for dialogue with other churches, they have given no indication that they are prepared to back down in the dispute. In a statement, Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold said that the Episcopal Church had 'sought to act with integrity.' Griswold told the BBC that Robinson's appointment as bishop of New Hampshire had been 'right and proper.' U.S. church officials questioned whether the other church leaders had the right to request that the American church withdraw from the consultative council, which is due to meet in June in the English town of Nottingham. An Episcopal Church spokeswoman, Rev. Jan Nunley, said such a step should properly be taken by the consultative council itself." 7

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Response of the Anglican Consultative Council:

The Rt. Revd. John Paterson, chairperson of the Anglican Consultative Council issued a statement which said, in part: "I have asked the Design Group to include in our programme an opportunity for a Consultation at which the major input will come from members of ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada, and it is hoped that delegates from other parts of the Communion will contribute also. We will also continue to work on the request from Lambeth Conference 1998 Resolution 1.10 which the ACC began at its meeting in Dundee Scotland in 1999. The aim will be to initiate a listening and study process which will review what has already taken place and co-ordinate further work in this area."

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Response of Scottish Anglicans: the split widens:

The Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church appear to have placed themselves on the liberal side of the Anglican schism by their comments on the Primates' communiqué. They posted a statement on their web site on 2005-MAR-04. It notes that:

"...there is in our life significant diversity of view on both the matter of the consecration of Gene Robinson and the authorization of liturgies for the blessing of same sex unions. Indeed, the Windsor Report itself in suggesting that a moratorium be placed on such persons being consecrated bishops, itself acknowledges the existence of many such relationships within the Church."

The Scottish Episcopal Church has never regarded the fact that someone was in a close relationship with a member of the same sex as in itself constituting a bar to the exercise of an ordained ministry.
The Scottish Episcopal Church has, even before the 1998 Lambeth Conference, sought to be welcoming and open to persons of homosexual orientation in our congregations, and to listen to their experiences. This has on occasion led clergy to respond to requests to give a blessing to persons who were struggling with elements in their relationship and who asked for such a prayer." 9

They agreed that with the current state of the debate within the Anglican Communion, this would not be the appropriate time to create a formal liturgy for the blessing of same-sex relationships.

They expressed their regret that the Evangelical Church, USA and the Anglican Church of Canada were asked to withdraws from the Anglican Consultative Council.

They concluded: "We are conscious that as a Church we are much indebted in our life both to a significant presence of persons of homosexual (lesbian and gay) orientation, and also to those whose theology and stance would be critical of attitudes to sexuality other than abstinence outside marriage. We rejoice in both, and it must be our prayer that discussion following the Windsor Report and the Primates’ Meeting will enable the energy of both to be harnessed to serve the Church and the proclamation of the gospel." 9

Bruce Cameron, Bishop of Aberdeen, later told BBC Radio: "We are not simply making a provocative statement. We are committed to a debate across the differences."

This position was welcomed by Stonewall, a gay-positive group. Spokesperson Alan Wardle called the church's position "a sensible approach...It strikes us as a real pity that the Anglican Church has been tearing itself to pieces" over a trivial issue.

Their MAR-04 statement brought a lot of media attention which focused on the province's absence of a bar to ordination by gays and lesbians in committed relationships. On 2005-MAR-23, they responded: "In referring to the fact that there is no current bar to ordination for someone who might be in a close relationship with a member of the same sex, the Bishops were simply stating the present position as it applies in Scotland where, unlike some other provinces, no motion discouraging such ordinations has ever been passed by our General Synod. Consequently, the statement earlier this month does not represent any change in policy on the part of the Bishops." 10

The Scottish Episcopal Church has seven dioceses, and approximately 45,000 members. It started ordaining women as deacons in 1985, and as priests in 1994. 9

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A way to resolve the split, that is probably acceptable to none:

On the surface, the solution to the split within the Communion is simple. As the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said on 2005-FEB-26: "We still face the possibility of division, of course we do. That's not going to go away. Any lasting solution, I think, will require people to say somewhere along the line, 'Yes, we were wrong'." 8 However, neither side seems to be able to acknowledge that they are wrong, or even that the other side's position has some validity.

The crux of the problem is that:

bullet Liberal individuals within the North American churches are absolutely certain that homosexuality should be considered a fundamental human rights issue both within the church and without. The only right thing for the Communion to do is to grant equality to persons of all sexual orientations. The great evil is homophobia. Homosexual orientation itself is morally neutral, as is bisexuality and heterosexuality. It is the nature of the relationship which decides whether an act is sinful or free of sin. Within this belief system, the two denominations' moves to approve the consecration of a gay bishop and to approve public rituals recognizing same-sex committed relationships is the right, moral, ethical, biblical Christian thing to do. They cannot, in good conscience, admit that their actions are wrong.
bullet Conservative individuals within the Anglican Communion are absolutely certain that homosexuality is a chosen, abnormal, unnatural, disordered state. Homosexual behavior is hated by God and regularly condemned within the Bible. Consecrating an actively gay bishop or acknowledging the validity of same-sex loving relationships are forms of blasphemy. Within this belief system, they cannot admit that they are wrong either.

There are only two apparent solutions to this impasse:

bullet For one side to examine their preconceptions about homosexuality, realize that they are based on falsehood, and change their position. The chances of this happening are essentially nil. Basic beliefs about homosexuality are mainly culturally based and almost impossible to change, except over time intervals measured in decades.
This is a two step process:
  1. For both sides to acknowledge that, relative to their own belief system, their stand on homosexuality is moral, biblical, Christian, acceptable in God's eyes, and right.
  2. For both sides to acknowledge that, relative to the other side's belief system, their stand is immoral, unbiblical, un-Christian, unacceptable in God's eyes, and just plain wrong.

These should be simple do do, because these are mere statements of fact -- a recognition of reality.

bullet Then, both sides would have to accept these acknowledgements as an adequate apology, go forward, agree to disagree, and coexist within the same Communion. The chances of this happening are very small, because it would require both sides to agree that their position is a relative, not an absolute, one.

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  1. The Windsor 2004 report is available in English, Spanish and French. See:  The reports are in PDF format. You may require software to view the report. It can be obtained free from: 
  2. "A brief summary of the Windsor Report's main findings," The Jamestown Cross, at:
  3. "Anglican feud over homosexuals heats up: Leaders plush Canadian, U.S. churches. Conservatives want them out of council," The Toronto Star, 2005-FEB-25, Page A10.
  4. "The Anglican Communion Primates’ Meeting Communiqué, February 2005," Anglican Communion News Service, 2005-FEB-24, at:
  5. "AAC Weekly Update," American Anglican Council, 2005-MAR-04.
  6. Marites Sison, "Hutchison brings Canadian response to Windsor Report to global primates," Anglican Journal, 2005-MAR, Page 1.
  7. Michael Dobbs, "Episcopalians Affirm Pro-Gay View. Church's North American Members Back Same-Sex Unions," Washington Post, 2005-FEB-26, at:
  8. David Williams, "Williams: Someone Has To Admit They Were Wrong," 2005-FEB-25, at:
  9. "The Windsor Report / Primates’ Communiqué. A response from the College of Bishops," 2005-MAR-04, at:
  10. "Statement regarding today’s media reports - 23rd March 2005," 2005-MAR-23, at:

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Copyright © 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2005-JUN-23
Author: B.A. Robinson

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