Anglican Communion and homosexuality
Overview: The schism in the Anglican
Communion & Episcopal Church, USA
Many religions do not handle change easily. Their
memberships are divided between those who take a static or a dynamic view of
doctrine, morality, and beliefs. We see this throughout Western culture:
In the field of biology, many social and religious conservatives are
committed to creation science that is derived from a
literal interpretation of Genesis. Many liberals and progressives fully accept the theory of
evolution: that species evolved from primitive to complex forms of life,
culminating in humans
In the field of jurisprudence, most social conservatives interpret
constitutions as enduring documents. They are
called strict constructionists or originalists. They view the documents in the
context of the lives and beliefs of the original authors. Many liberals/progressives view
constitutions as living documents, whose meaning evolves as the culture
In the field of religion, Christian conservatives tend to
consider the Bible as the inerrant Word of God,
written by authors who were inspired by God. It
is generally to be interpreted literally. Most liberal/progressive Christians look upon the Bible
as a historical document many of whose writers were limited by having lived in a
tribal culture during a pre-scientific era. Liberals see a need to continually reinterpret the Bible's
passages concerning sexual morality in
the light of recent scientific discoveries in human sexuality.
These two contrasting options -- seeking stability or seeking change -- are seen in the
ways with which Christians and their denominations
establish their religious beliefs and policies. Most use some combination of
the following eight criteria:
||Specific references in the Bible, as they interpret their meaning.
||General biblical statements and themes.
||Actions of leaders in the Bible.
||Continuing revelation from the Holy Spirit.
A major difference among Christians is seen in the weighting given to each of these criteria. For
Conservative Christians tend to cite specific passages from the Bible,
like the six "clobber" passages that they
generally interpret as forbidding all forms of same-sex behavior. Liberals often discuss general biblical statements and themes,
like love and justice. They suggest that the clobber passages discuss rape,
sexual orgies in Pagan temples, sexual abuse of children, bestiality etc. but
are unrelated to loving, committed same-sex relationships.
||Conservatives tend to give greater weight to church tradition, while
liberals stress scientific findings and personal experience.
||Conservative Christians stress a foundational doctrine from the
Protestant Reformation: "sola Scriptura" -- that the Bible is the only
source of doctrine. Liberals tend to weigh information from many
||Culture often has a major impact on doctrine, although its influence is
often not fully recognized.
And so, we find a conflict over morality and doctrine between:
||Conservatives who particularly value stability as implied in Jude 1:3: "... ye should earnestly
contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" and
||Religious liberals/progressives who believe that the Church's statements on morality
and doctrine must be continually updated as information becomes available
from extra-biblical sources, and from new interpretations of biblical
In the past, the Anglican Communion has faced many crises over morality and doctrine. The debate over the abolition of human slavery almost split the
Episcopal Church during the 18th century. In the 20th century, the Communion was able to
reverse its course over the
use of contraceptives without triggering a schism. However, there
remains a lack of consensus on sexually related
matters among the provinces:
The role of women in the Anglican Communion: Historically, the Anglican Communion had
a sexist institution, by refusing to ordain women.
The concept of a partly female priesthood caused a
major crisis at the 1978 Lambeth Conference. It was only In 1998, when the General Assembly
of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (Anglican Church in Japan) voted to
accept female priests, that the majority of the 38 provinces in the Anglican
Communion were willing to consider women candidates for ordination. A large minority of
provinces still deny qualified women as priests, as do a few dioceses in the
Episcopal Church, USA.
A handful of provinces have consecrated women as
bishops; most still refuse to consider females, regardless of their talents,
Until the Right Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori
was made primate-elect of the Episcopal Church, USA in 2006-JUN, all
primates had been male. The count is now 37 males and one female.
Anglican Communion has been able to survive the shift from a sexist to
non-sexist institution. Clearly, women still have a long distance to go to
reach equality with men in the Communion.
The role of homosexuals in the communion: Historically, the
Anglican Communion has also been a homophobic institution, refusing to
consider sexually active homosexuals as acceptable. The provinces in North America -- the
Episcopal Church, USA and the Anglican Church of Canada -- have lowered many
of the barriers to equal treatment of gays and lesbians. Some dioceses bless
loving, committed, same-sex relationships. Gene Robinson, a homosexual in a
committed relationship, was elected bishop of New Hampshire and had his
election confirmed by the subsequent General Convention. This has led to a
crisis in the worldwide Anglican Communion and in the
two North American provinces.
The crisis over homosexuality reached a critical stage in 2006. By early
2007, symptoms of a formal schism in the Communion had surfaced. The split
continues to intensify.
Copyright © 2007 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on
Original posting: 2007-FEB-26
Latest update: 2009-AUG-16
Author: B.A. Robinson