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The Anglican Communion and Homosexuality

Events leading up to the
Lambeth Conference, 2008

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2008-JUL-16: The climate of the 2008 Lambeth Conference:

Sources of revelation to the Anglican Communion are often visualized in the form of a three-legged stool in which the three supports represent scripture, reason and tradition. When applied to sexual orientation -- the question of rights for and treatment of persons with a homosexual or bisexual orientation -- the three legs are not in harmony among everyone:
  • Scripture: Although there is general agreement on what the Bible says, there is no consensus on what it means. Biblical passages can be interpreted in a multitude of ways. There are six or seven "clobber" passages from the Bible that have traditionally been used to associate homosexual behavior with great sin, regardless of the nature of the relationship. However, there are other interpretations that view these same passages as being silent on loving, committed same-sex relationships. The Bible is then seen as condemning:
    • homosexual rape,
    • same-sex sexual prostitution in temples,
    • heterosexuals violating their basic nature by engaging in same-sex sexual activity,
    • men sexually abusing boys, and
    • men engaging in bestiality with a non-human species -- angels.
  • Reason is generally interpreted to include person experience, the findings of scientific research, and other sources of information. Here again we have a conflict between:
    • Religious and social conservatives who generally view homosexuality as a behavior that is chosen, abnormal, unnatural, and changeable, and
    • Religious and social liberals, human sexuality researchers, gays, lesbians, and others who generally view homosexuality as an orientation that is discovered, as normal and natural for a minority of adults, and fixed -- or essentially fixed -- in adulthood.
  • Tradition is abundantly clear: the church has historically opposed equal rights for and treatment of gays, lesbians and bisexuals for millennia.

The result is a disagreement:

  • To religious and social conservatives, no internal conflict exists. The Bible condemns same-sex behavior. Reason, personal experience, science, etc. reinforce the Bible. The church tradition properly follows both of the other legs.
  • To the vast majority of religious and social liberals, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, human sexuality researchers, mental health professionals internal conflict does exist. The Bible condemns many forms of sexual behavior but is silent on committed, loving same-sex behavior. Science and reason support the moral neutrality of the three sexual orientations. However, church tradition has condemned homosexual behavior and needs to be changed.
  • Overall, there is a massive disagreement between the liberal and conservative factions. It is debatable whether both factions can remain together in the same Communion much longer.

Culture is a second source of conflict over homosexuality among the 38 provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Comparing the North American provinces with a typical African province, it is obvious that they both:

  • Follow the same Bible,
  • Use the same rituals,
  • Share the same religious traditions, and
  • Are both members of the same wing of Christianity.

However, their cultures are very different. North American socieity has been able to adapt much more quickly to changes in what is regarded as acceptable sexual behavior. Africa has adapted much more slowly. Since culture has such a massive influence on religious beliefs and practices, a conflict over homosexuality is inevitable.

There are various ways in which the conflict could have been handled at the Lambeth Conference.

  • Some have recommended a free and open discussion and debate in which various bishops present their case in an atmosphere of open and sincere dialogue, and a desire to learn from each other.
  • Others have suggested that an artificial lid be placed on discussion by prohibiting some representatives from both sides from participating.
The second approach appears to have been chosen. By prohibiting some key bishops from attending the Lambeth Conference, free and honest dialogue has been stifled. Thus, no resolution will be possible. This situation was further aggravated by the decisions of hundreds of bishops to boycott the conference entirely.

2008-JUL-16: The 2008 Lambeth Conference begins:

Anglican bishops from around the world met in Canterbury to begin the Lambeth conference. In order to prevent Gene Robinson, the bishop of New Hampshire and the only openly gay Anglican bishop, from becoming the focus of the conference, he was not invited. This strategy appears to have backfired, as he has become an even greater focus of attention at the conference.

On the even of the opening of the conference, Keith Ackerman, Episcopal bishop of Quincy in Illinois expressed his comments. He is the President of
Forward in Faith North America -- a conservative reform movement within the Anglican Communion. He is also one of only two bishops in the Episcopal Church, USA who refuses to ordain women as clergy. Referring to the Communion, he said: "We may be participating in the demise of the third largest Christian communion in the world."

Life Site News reported:

"Bishop Ackerman drew a theological line of connection between the push for women clergy and bishops and the 'sexual idolatry' of promoting homosexuality and downgrading natural relations."

" 'The priest not only takes the place of Christ at the altar,' he said, 'but is in immediate relationship with Holy Mother church, thus we recognize complementarity. In the case of marriage we see one man and one woman and therefore we see once again the reality of complementarity. The interchangeability of sex in these sacraments undermines the traditional perspective articulated in the Book of Genesis regarding creation and procreation'."

"When asked if he agreed that the Anglican Communion was now being led by people who were 'Christian in name only' but who are not true believers, Ackerman responded, 'By their fruits ye shall know them'."

Life Site News also commented:

"The Anglican Church is breaking up over the acceptance by its ultra-liberal and heavily secularized North American and British branches of homosexuality as morally equivalent to natural sexuality and their insistence on forcing the rest of the Communion to follow suit."
Life Site News and Bishop Ackerman both implied that only sexual activity between a man and a woman is "natural." Religious liberals, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, human sexuality researchers, therapists generally accept the concept that same-sex behavior is natural and normal for those with a bisexual or homosexual orientation.

Life Site's comment about the North American and British provinces forcing the rest of the communion to follow their lead appears to be an error. It is the conservative provinces that are attempting to force the North American and British provinces to stop treating those with a homosexual orientation on an equal footing with those with a heterosexual orientation.

Over 200 of conservative bishops boycotted the Lambeth Conference. The province of Uganda did not send any of its bishops. The missing bishops represent 30 million of the Anglican Church's 55 million active adherents worldwide. Archbishop Williams said their absence was a great grief "because we need their voice and they need ours in learning Christ together." 2

The opening gathering was closed to the media.


  1. The official website of the Lambeth Conference is at:
  2. Marites Sison, "Boycotting bishops at Lambeth cause 'great grief'," Anglican Church of Canada web news, 2008-JUL-17.
  3. Hilary White, "No Hope for a Return to Orthodox Christianity from Lambeth: US Traditional Anglican Leader," Life Site News, 2008-JUL-17.

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Copyright 2006 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2006-MAR-11
Latest update: 2008-AUG-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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