THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION AND HOMOSEXUALITY
The Anglican Consultative Council 2005
meeting, and subsequent developments
The Anglican Communion is very largely decentralized. It has four "instruments of unity" which enable it to coordinate their activities:
||The 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.
||The Lambeth Conference where the bishops and primates meet once per decade.
||The Primates' Meeting where the heads of each of the 38 Anglican provinces meet.
||The 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:
||The recognition by both provinces of same-sex committed relationships.
||The 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.
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.
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:
||Should 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,
||How 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?|
||Should 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?|
||Can the Communion remain united even while a diversity of beliefs and
practices exist over homosexuality?|
||What exactly should the Communion expect of a person who has a
homosexual orientation? Should she or he be expected:|
||To lead a celibate life.
||To seek to change their sexual orientation?
||To form a loving, committed same-sex relationship?
||To seek a same-sex marriage.
||The 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.|
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.
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:
||"...the questions around the limits of our diversity,
||the location of our authority, and
||the 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:
The churches of the 'North:"
||Are weary and bewildered.
||Have lost "evangelistic energy."
||Have adopted elements of the secular culture.
||Have over-intellectualized their interpretation of the Bible.
||They have ignored the Bible's call to transformation.
||They have rejected the "...the plain meaning of Scripture's
The churches of the "North:"
||Have become sensitized to oppressive social patterns in the past.
||Have become aware of how the Bible has been used to justify great evils.
||Authority is suspect. "it has to earn respect."
||Society's understanding of human sexuality has gone through a massive
||The church's past teachings about human sexuality are inhibiting spread
of the gospel.
||We must go deeper "and ask about the logic and direction of the Bible as
||This path leads to a belief system that can be taken seriously by the
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
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
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:
||Church 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."
||Acts 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.
||The 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."
||Christians have experienced many disagreement
since, over the environment, charging interest, human
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.
||The 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
||Some 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
||In 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."
||The 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
||In 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."
||Jesus 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."
||Since 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.
||Accepting same-sex unions within the church
will counter the rejection, ostracism, discrimination, and violence
experienced by homosexuals.
||Many 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
Resolution to create a listening process:
The delegates unanimously passed a resolution for the Secretary General of
the Anglican Communion to:
||Collect "...relevant research studies, statements, resolutions and
other material" related to homosexuality from the provinces of the
||Make the data available within the Communion.
||Allocate sufficient resources for the task.
||Send progress reports to the Archbishop of Canterbury, to the next
Lambeth Conference and the next meeting of the ACC, and the Provinces. 6
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
||Notes that overwhelming support in the Anglican Communion to condemn
||Asked 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.
The Anglican Consultative Council has its official website at:
"Listening central as delegates, observers
prepare for ACC-13. Anglican Consultative
Council to convene June 19-28 in Nottingham," Episcopal News Service,
"Anglican Church announces 'presenters' to Anglican Consultative Council,"
Anglican Church of Canada, 2005-MAY-25, at:
"Archbishop of Canterbury's Presidential Address at ACC-13," Anglican
Communion News Service, 2005-JUN-20, at:
"More that unites than divides, Episcopalians
tell ACC. Presentation on sexuality,
responds to Windsor Report request," Episcopal News Service, 2005-JUN-22,
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:
"Resolutions Passed Today At ACC-13," Anglican Communion News
Service, 2005-JUN-22, at:
Copyright © 2005 & 2006 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2006-SEP-04
Author: B.A. Robinson