The Anglican Communion and Homosexuality
Events leading up to the
Lambeth Conference, 2008
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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.
- 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.
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
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,
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
"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
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.
The official website of the Lambeth Conference is at:
- Marites Sison, "Boycotting bishops at Lambeth cause 'great grief',"
Anglican Church of Canada web news, 2008-JUL-17.
- Hilary White, "No Hope for a Return to Orthodox Christianity from
Lambeth: US Traditional Anglican Leader," Life Site News, 2008-JUL-17.
Copyright © 2006 to 2008 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2006-MAR-11
Latest update: 2008-AUG-08
Author: B.A. Robinson