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The Anglican Communion and homosexuality

Overview: The schism in the Anglican
Communion & Episcopal Church, USA

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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:

bullet 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
bullet 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 changes.
bullet 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 Most liberal/progressive Christians look upon the Bible as a historical document many of whose writers were limited by having lived in a tribal culture during a pre-scientific era.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:

bullet Specific references in the Bible, as they interpret their meaning.
bullet General biblical statements and themes.
bullet Actions of leaders in the Bible.
bullet Church traditions.
bullet Continuing revelation from the Holy Spirit.
bullet Scientific findings.
bullet Personal experience.
bullet Cultural influences.

A major difference among Christians is seen in the weighting given to each of these criteria. For example:

bullet 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.
bullet Conservatives tend to give greater weight to church tradition, while liberals stress scientific findings and personal experience.
bullet 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 sources.
bullet 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:

bullet 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
bullet 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 passages.

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:

bullet The role of women in the Anglican Communion: Historically, the Anglican Communion had remained 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, education, and ability.

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.

The 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.
bullet 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.

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Copyright 2007 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2007-FEB-26
Latest update: 2009-AUG-16
Author: B.A. Robinson

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