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THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION AND HOMOSEXUALITY

The Anglican Consultative Council 2005
meeting, and subsequent developments

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Sponsored link.


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Overview:

The Anglican Communion is very largely decentralized. It has four "instruments of unity" which enable it to coordinate their activities:

bulletThe Archbishop of Canterbury, who is the spiritual head of the Communion. He plays major roles in the remaining instruments of unity: he calls the Lambeth Conferences, chairs the Primates' meeting and is President of the Anglican Consultative Council. The Most Rev'd Rowan Williams, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury was enthroned at Canterbury Cathedral on 2003-FEB-27.
bulletThe Lambeth Conference where the bishops and primates meet once per decade.
bulletThe Primates' Meeting where the heads of each of the 38 Anglican provinces meet.
bulletThe Anglican Consultative Council, the key body which facilitates contacts and coordination among the 38 provinces.

At their 2005-FEB meeting, the primates created a schism in the Anglican Communion by asking the two North American churches to withdraw from the Anglican Consultative Council. The Primates then asked the Council to schedule the ACC meeting for 2005-JUN and to invite the two provinces to explain their beliefs about homosexuality and justify:

bulletThe recognition by both provinces of same-sex committed relationships.
bulletThe confirmation by the Episcopal Church. USA of a gay bishop, Gene Robinson who is in a loving, committed same-sex relationship.

The two North American provinces were thus asked to attend the meeting but to take no active part in its decision making activities. They decided to send a delegation to the meeting, as observers who would not take part in voting.

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About the Anglican Consultative Council:

According to the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) website, its role "...is to facilitate the co-operative work of the churches of the Anglican Communion, exchange information between the Provinces and churches, and help to co-ordinate common action. It advises on the organisation and structures of the Communion, and seeks to develop common policies with respect to the world mission of the Church, including ecumenical matters. The ACC membership includes from one to three persons from each province. Where there are three members, there is a bishop, a priest and a lay person. Where fewer members are appointed, preference is given to lay membership." 1

Attendees to the 1968 Lambeth Conference felt the need of a more frequent contact among the provinces than could be achieved by the once per decade Lambeth Conference. A resolution of that conference led to the creation of the ACC constitution. It came into being in 1969-OCT and has typically held meetings every three years since.

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ACC-13: The problem:

The main concern of the 13th ACC meeting was to resolve the controversy over differences among the provinces' teachings and policies about homosexuality. It has been suggested that this is a North/South conflict because some in the Episcopal Church, USA, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Church of England and some other northern provinces have taken a liberal stance, whereas the southern provinces have maintained a conservative position.

This is a complex issue, and involves many different factors:

bulletShould the Communion's beliefs about homosexuality be derived mainly from the six specific "clobber" passages in the Bible or from the Bible's general themes of love, justice, liberation, compassion, etc?
bulletHow should the Communion handle the immense gap in some of the Northern provinces between the traditional teachings of most of the Communion on human sexuality and the findings of human sexuality researchers, the life experiences of gays and lesbians, the demands of civil libertarians, etc?
bulletShould the Communion move from its historical position on homosexuality, at least in those cultures where this gap has become so massive that the traditional teachings are alienating the public?
bulletCan the Communion remain united even while a diversity of beliefs and practices exist over homosexuality?
bulletWhat exactly should the Communion expect of a person who has a homosexual orientation? Should she or he be expected:
bulletTo lead a celibate life.
bulletTo seek to change their sexual orientation?
bulletTo form a loving, committed same-sex relationship?
bulletTo seek a same-sex marriage.
bulletThe last Lambeth Conference noted that the authors of the Bible clearly condemned same-sex behavior, the church had rejected homosexuality for millennia, and that there is a widespread opposition to homosexuality among other Christian denominations. They concluded that there is no justification at this time to accept same-sex behavior as moral.

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Episcopal Church, USA and Anglican Church of Canada prepare for ACC meeting:

Both provinces formally withdrew their elected delegates from the ACC-13 meeting. Their delegates will attend, but only as observers.

The Episcopal Church's Presiding Bishop, Frank T. Griswold, said: "What I hope will evolve from the ACC is a greater respectfulness, a greater willingness to listen and honor the different ways in which the Gospel is articulated in different places. It is only through listening -- listening deeply with an undefended heart -- that we can hear the richness of God's truth.... In spite of differences, in spite of tensions, the overwhelming reality of the church is people engaged in mission for the sake of the world. It is through listening that I hope we can become better partners across the Communion."

Both churches arranged to send groups of presenters to the ACC. The U.S. Episcopalians prepared to describe events in their province related to the confirmation of bishop Gene Robinson in New Hampshire. The group included: Bishop Neil Alexander of Atlanta; Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana; Bishop Suffragan Catherine Roskam of New York; the Rev. Michael Battle, academic vice president of Virginia Theological Seminary; the Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity and an assisting priest at All Saints' Church in Pasadena, California; and Jane Tully, founder of CFLAG (Clergy Families of Lesbians and Gays) and a parishioner of St. Bartholomew's Church in New York City. 5,6

The Canadian Anglicans prepared to comment on the Diocese of New Westminster's practice of blessing same-gender unions.  2,3

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ACC-13: The meeting:

The ten day meeting started on 2005-JUN-20 with an international procession through Nottingham, England.

In his address, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, identified the main issues to be resolved in the church:

bullet"...the questions around the limits of our diversity,
bulletthe location of our authority, and
bulletthe rightness of certain developments in attitudes to sex."

He described the conflict within the Communion over homosexuality in terms of two conflicting stories. He used the image of a North/South division, rather than a liberal/conservative one:

  1. The churches of the 'North:"
    bulletAre weary and bewildered.
    bulletHave lost "evangelistic energy."
    bulletHave adopted elements of the secular culture.
    bulletHave over-intellectualized their interpretation of the Bible.
    bulletThey have ignored the Bible's call to transformation.
    bulletThey have rejected the "...the plain meaning of Scripture's
    condemnation of same-sex activity.
    "
  2. The churches of the "North:"
    bulletHave become sensitized to oppressive social patterns in the past.
    bulletHave become aware of how the Bible has been used to justify great evils.
    bulletAuthority is suspect. "it has to earn respect."
    bulletSociety's understanding of human sexuality has gone through a massive shift.
    bulletThe church's past teachings about human sexuality are inhibiting spread of the gospel.
    bulletWe must go deeper "and ask about the logic and direction of the Bible as a whole."
    bulletThis path leads to a belief system that can be taken seriously by the culture

He concluded by attempting to put the homosexuality issue in proper perspective. He mentioned that, by a conservative estimate, 1,200 children have died of poverty-related causes during his talk. 300,000 will die during the conference. 4

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Presentation by Episcopal Church, USA to ACC-13:

Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold joined with six presenters on JUN-21 to respond to the Windsor Report's request to explain "from within the sources of authority that we as Anglicans have received in scripture, the apostolic tradition and reasoned reflection, how a person living in a same gender union may be considered eligible to lead the flock of Christ."

In the presentation on JUN-21, the group's first major point was that the Episcopal Church, USA has been seeking answers to this question for nearly four decades. Their second point was that they have not yet reached a consensus. However, the majority of Anglican members in New Hampshire supported the election of Bishop Robinson, and the majority of the delegates to the church's general convention confirmed the election.

Some points made in the presentation:

bulletChurch members have observed committed same-sex relationships for almost four decades and experienced them as holy. "...members of our congregations have seen the fruit of such unions as sanctifying human lives by deepening mutual love and by drawing persons together in fidelity and in service to the world."
bulletActs 10 describes how Peter and his companions faced a situation similar to that facing the Anglican Communion over homosexuality. Peter's conflict concerned whether righteous Gentiles should be welcomed into the embryonic Christian movement, which was almost entirely Jewish at the time. Peter noticed that Gentiles like Cornelius exhibited "gifts of the Holy Spirit," which indicated that God had already invited them into the Church. Acts 15 describes how a compromise was reached.
bulletThe early Christian movement was profoundly divided over matters such as the day of the Sabbath, dietary restrictions, whether foods sacrificed to Pagan deities could be eaten, etc. "St. Paul, in particular, argues in 1 Corinthians 8-10 and Romans 14-15 that the churches need to learn how to respect one anotherís honest differences of opinion about important matters."
bulletChristians have experienced many disagreement since, over the environment, charging interest, human slavery, abortion, death penalty, war, contraception, property rights of women, child labor laws, teaching of evolution, etc. These conflicts have been resolved. The presenters left out the most obvious and recent example from this list: whether women should be eligible for ordination. This may have been skipped because the transition from denying to accepting women as candidates for ordination is only half complete. About half of the provinces currently ordain women.  Many times, as the church came to a new understanding of the Bible, the most "obvious sense of the biblical text" has been rejected.
bulletThe most "central and important ethical issues in the Bible" are "...justice for the poor, issues of wealth and poverty, concern for widows, orphans, refugees, and those who are oppressed."
bulletSome of the six "clobber" passages in the Bible which are often quoted to condemn homosexuality are ambiguous. Others are unrelated to present-day same-sex committed relationships.
bulletIn recent decades, human sexuality researchers have concluded that homosexual orientation is not "a distortion of dysfunction of human nature....contemporary studies indicate that same-sex affection has a genetic-biological basis which is shaped in interaction with psycho-social and cultural-historical factors. Sexual orientation remains relatively fixed and generally not subject to change. Continuing studies have confirmed the 1973 decision of the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from their diagnostic manual of mental illness."
bulletThe presenters cited Paul's words in Galatians 3:27-28, "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." They have noticed that persons with either homosexual or heterosexual orientation can lead lives of holiness. Perhaps "there is no homosexual or heterosexual" would be a valid addition to this passage from Galatians.
bulletIn the past, they had assumed that same-sex behavior was sinful for the simple reason that it was between persons of the same gender. More recently, they have been viewing that some sexual relationships -- both between persons of the same sex and opposite sex -- can be "manifestations of holiness, honesty, goodness and enduring fidelity." In the same way, same and opposite sex relationships can manifest "abuse, promiscuity and many other kinds of sin."
bulletJesus may be revealing to Christians that same-sex unions can be "open to Godís blessing and holy purposes in an analogous way to that of marriages between a man and a woman."
bulletSince the 1970s, the Anglican Communion has listed companionship as the first purpose of marriage. This factor is common to both opposite-sex and same-sex committed relationships. Procreation of children is secondary.
bulletAccepting same-sex unions within the church will counter the rejection, ostracism, discrimination, and violence experienced by homosexuals.
bulletMany Episcopalians view the blessing of same-sex unions as a call to justice.

A 135 page booklet titled "To Set Our Hope on Christ" was distributed as part of the presentation. 6

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Resolution to create a listening process:

The delegates unanimously passed a resolution for the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion to:

bulletCollect "...relevant research studies, statements, resolutions and other material" related to homosexuality from the provinces of the Communion
bulletMake the data available within the Communion.
bulletAllocate sufficient resources for the task.
bulletSend progress reports to the Archbishop of Canterbury, to the next Lambeth Conference and the next meeting of the ACC, and the Provinces. 6

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Resolution to expel the U.S. and Canadian provinces:

A resolution which would have suspended the American and Canadian provinces from all church bodies was rejected. An alternative resolution was narrowly passed by a vote of 30 to 28. It

bulletNotes that overwhelming support in the Anglican Communion to condemn homosexual behavior
bulletAsked that the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada "voluntarily withdraw their members" from the ACC -- including its "Standing Committee and the Inter-Anglican Finance and Administration Committee" -- until the next Lambeth Conference in 2008. 6

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References used:

  1. The Anglican Consultative Council has its official website at: http://www.aco.org/
  2. "Listening central as delegates, observers prepare for ACC-13. Anglican Consultative Council to convene June 19-28 in Nottingham," Episcopal News Service, 2005-JUN-10, at: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/
  3. "Anglican Church announces 'presenters' to Anglican Consultative Council," Anglican Church of Canada, 2005-MAY-25, at: http://www.anglican.ca/
  4. "Archbishop of Canterbury's Presidential Address at ACC-13," Anglican Communion News Service, 2005-JUN-20, at: http://www.anglicancommunion.org/
  5. "More that unites than divides, Episcopalians tell ACC. Presentation on sexuality, responds to Windsor Report request," Episcopal News Service, 2005-JUN-22, at: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/
  6. Text of "To Set Our Hope on Christ: A Response to the Invitation of Windsor Report, Para. 135," Listening & Learning as Anglicans, at: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/ This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from:  A hard copy can be purchased at the Episcopal Book Resource Center. See: http://www.episcopalbookstore.org/
  7. "Resolutions Passed Today At ACC-13," Anglican Communion News Service, 2005-JUN-22, at: http://www.anglicancommunion.org/

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Copyright © 2005 & 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2006-SEP-04
Author: B.A. Robinson

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