The Anglican Communion and homosexuality
Introduction to "the issue"
The Anglican Communion is a world-wide Christian group of national denominations which includes the Episcopal Church, USA, the Anglican Church
of Canada, the Church of England, the Scottish Episcopal Church, and 34 other
provinces (often national churches) in other areas of the world.
In the past, the Communion successfully faced a series of serious moral
challenges that had threatened to split the movement. These included:
- The morality
of human slavery,
- Whether married couples should have access to contraceptives,
- Whether women should be granted access to positions of power in the Communion,
As with so many other religious groups, the Communion has been recently under
stress due to the drive
by gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender persons, religious liberals, and some civil libertarians to attain acceptance and equal rights for sexual
- The right of homosexuals and bisexuals to be considered for ordination as priests and consecrated as
bishops using the same criteria as for heterosexuals: i.e. to be celibate in
singleness, or involved in a sexually active, loving, committed, permanent relationship.
- The right for same-sex couples in committed relationships to be recognized by a
church ritual similar to a marriage ceremony.
A third goal of the "homosexual agenda" is currently latent:
- The actual marriage of same-sex couples in the church, in those countries
where such marriages are legalized. As of 2008-JAN, this includes Belgium,
Canada, Massachusetts, The Netherlands,
Spain and South Africa.
The main causes of the conflict:
There are four main causes of the seriousness of the conflict over equal
rights for sexual minorities:
- Culture: Beliefs about sexual orientation tend to
be more determined by cultural factors than by religious factors. This is seen
even within a single province. The Episcopal Church, USA is internally
split over equal rights for sexual minorities between:
- Those under 40 years of age vs. older members.
- Southern areas of the country vs. the North East.
- Urban vs. rural parishes.
- Religious liberals vs. conservatives.
Since it was triggered by the Stonewall riots in 1969, the gay pride movement in the U.S. and
Canada has made rapid progress towards the acceptance of homosexuality and
behavior is no longer criminalized. Same-sex couples can marry in the state of
Massachusetts and throughout Canada. They can enter into civil unions or
domestic partnerships in California, Connecticut, and Vermont. A patchwork of
laws at the federal, state and municipal levels have, in some cases, recognized
conflict is far more serious within the larger Anglican Communion. It is a world-wide organization composed of 38 national or
multi-national provinces. It is active in countries with very different
and entrenched culturally based rejection of homosexuality. Thus major differences in policy among
the various provinces is inevitable.
- Rate of change: Alteration on such a fundamental topic as
homosexuality can only happen over many decades. It took about
one generation between Evelyn Hooker's pioneering research into
homosexuality before the American Psychiatric Association removed
homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses in 1973. It has taken
another generation in the U.S. and Canada before most youths and young adults
have begun to accept equal rights for gays and lesbians and
same-sex marriage. Organized religions have great difficulty
their beliefs and practices on many topics. The two North American Anglican provinces have
made significant changes in their policies towards homosexuals; most of the remaining
provinces have not
yet begun to change.
- Authority: Anglicans recognize three main sources for religious beliefs.
These are often referred to as the "Three-legged school of scripture, reason
- Provincial autonomy: Individual provinces within the Anglican
Communion have considerable freedom to establish their own policies. In the U.S.
and Canada, individual dioceses also have significant independence from the
central body. This contrasts with Christian denominations like the Roman Catholic Church
were the pope is able to make decisions which affect the beliefs and practices
of every diocese in the world. With dioceses and provinces adopting different
policies, it is inevitable that some will liberalize their attitudes towards
gays, lesbians and bisexuals many decades before other provinces are willing to
start to change.
Copyright © 2006 to 2008 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2008-JUL-18
Author: B.A. Robinson