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The Anglican Communion and homosexuality

Introduction to "the issue"


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Background:

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,
  • etc.

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 minorities, including:

  • 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 bisexuality. Same-sex 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 their relationships.

    The 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 in changing 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 and tradition:"
    • The Bible. Unfortunately, liberal and conservative Anglicans approach the Bible with different preconceptions. Thus, they interpret the famous seven or so "clobber passages" of the Bible in very different ways.
      • Many liberals believe that the Bible is silent regarding loving, committed same-sex relationships. They interpret :
        • Genesis 19 as condemning homosexual rape, not loving same-sex behavior
        • Two passages in Leviticus as condemning homosexual ritual sex in Pagan temples.
        • Other passages in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) as condemning homosexual prostitution.
        • 1 Corinthians 6 as condemning men molesting boys.
        • Romans 1 as criticizing heterosexuals engaged in homosexual behavior.
        • Jude 7 condemning men engaging in bestiality with angels.
      • Many conservatives regard all of the above passages as condemning same-sex sexual behavior under all conditions.
    • The Church's historical traditions. Traditions towards sexual minorities in the Anglican Communion -- and Christianity in general -- have been  consistently negative. It is only in the last few decades that liberal and some mainline Christian denominations have begun to change their historical rejection of same-sex behavior.
    • Human reason. Unfortunately, liberal and conservative Anglicans have reached different conclusions concerning the results of studies on homosexuality:
      • Conservatives frequently regard homosexual or bisexual behavior by adults as chosen, changeable, abnormal, and unnatural. Most believe it is caused by incompetent parenting and/or sexual abuse during childhood.
      • Liberals generally regard a homosexual or bisexual orientation as unchosen, fixed, and both normal and natural for a small minority of adults. Many believe that the predisposition for a homosexual orientation has a genetic cause; it may or many not be triggered by some environmental factor before the age of five.

      Since their fundamental beliefs about the nature of homosexual behavior and orientation are so different, their conclusions about granting equality to sexual minorities are poles apart.

  • 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.

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Home > Conflicts > Homosexuality Religious groups > Christian groups > Anglican > here


Copyright 2006 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2008-JUL-18
Author: B.A. Robinson

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