Sexuality Issues a Continued Focus of the Anglican Church

One of the world’s Anglican leaders called on congregants to shift their focus from “sexuality” to missions, on Monday, July 12, 2004. The comments of David Hope, the archbishop of York, England, comes amid one of the most trying years for the 70-million member denomination, which is struggling to keep the unity within its international church bodies.

Hope, according to the Times of London, said the Anglican church is “in danger of being overwhelmed” by the sex and sexuality focus “to the extent that we are almost wholly diverted and distracted from the fundamental priority of the mission entrusted to us by Christ.”

Liberal bodies within the Anglican Communion, including the Episcopal Church USA, shocked the world by ordaining an open and active gay minister as its bishop and by allowing same-sex union “blessing rites” within its doors.

Dozens of conservative congregations have rallied against the ECUSA’s controversial decision, forming their own network of churches in the States. Additionally, Anglicans in Africa, Asia and Latin America severed ties with the ECUSA, calling their American counterpart to repentance.

Meanwhile, one of the central figures in the sexuality debate, the openly homosexual bishop Gene Robinson, yet again stirred controversy on Saturday, July 10, 2004. Robinson, in addressing a crowd of some 300 gay parishioners at Burlington Vermont, said churches are to blame for turning homosexuals away from God.

Robinson said that “an awful lot of people left their churches for very good reasons” in reference to the Christian view of homosexuality as a sin.

At that end Robinson argued that the “church is responsible for turning so many away” and that the church is “now responsible for bringing even more back to God," according to the Associated Press.

Robinson correctly assessed that many turned away from the ECUSA because of sexuality. However, statistics revealed that most of the congregants who left the liberal denomination did so because they felt the ECUSA’s open acceptance of homosexuality undercut the biblical call against the sin.

Nevertheless, Robinson exhorted the pro-gay crowd, saying, “You and I have spent a lot of time with folks that don't know a God… You and I have to come out to our homosexual brothers and sisters as well about God."

The Anglican Communion commissioned a group of its members to undergo a study of sexuality –specifically homosexuality- following Robinson’s election as bishop of New Hampshire last November. The group, entitled, “The Lambeth Commission” is set to fully report to the Anglican Communion this September.

The following is an updated report of the Commission, released by the Anglican Communion News Service on July 7, 2004:

In recent weeks, ACNS has received a large number of queries about the progress of the Lambeth Commission on Communion (LCC). ACNS managed to catch up with the Chair of the Commission, the Most Revd Robin Eames, as he passed through St Andrew's House this week. He agreed to give some personal reflections on the work of the Commission, given that it is impossible for him or the Secretary of the Commission to respond to the large number of individual enquiries that we have received.
1. How would you describe the challenge facing the Lambeth Commission on Communion?

Archbishop Eames: Well, you know the Anglican Communion has become deeply polarised by recent developments in the Canadian Diocese of New Westminster and the Episcopal Church (USA). It would not be putting it too strongly to say that there is a sense of betrayal in parts of the Communion about the actions in North America. Now in the Commission, the Archbishop of Canterbury has brought together a group of primates, theologians and canon lawyers to consider the diverse views within the Communion, and to seek ways in which the provinces can find the highest degree of communion possible given this diversity. We represent a microcosm of the Communion's life. I am delighted to see the degree of trust and co-operation amongst our members, which has been very encouraging, and which augurs well as we have begun to navigate our way towards our report. I'm extremely grateful for this as Chair.

2. Considering the diverse backgrounds of the commission members how has the commission conducted its work together?

We've begun each day of our meetings with shared prayer and Bible Study. I've taken the view that there is no point in bringing members half around the globe for a meeting and them not having the opportunity for their voice to be heard. Each member has in fact taken the opportunity to contribute fully in the discussions both in plenary sessions and in small groups. The discussions have been open, frank and generous.

3. The LCC stated that there was to be an open process for submission of evidence. What were the criteria for deciding which material was for primary consideration, and which was supplemental?

We've taken all the material we've received very seriously. Submissions have come from a wide spectrum of the Communion - from primates; from provinces; from groups of provinces and organisations, and from many, many individuals. Everything has been read - in the first place either by myself, or the secretariat based in London. And then, we've evaluated what we've read on the basis of the key questions we identified at the beginning of our work, and the quality of the insights into those questions which have been offered to us. Sometimes, an individual's insight has been better than that of a whole organisation. The Revd Terrie Robinson, one of Canon Cameron's staff at the ACO, has made a very helpful resume of all the individual submissions - I think that its up on our website - but all the submissions are being made available in full at the plenary meetings so that they can be read by members of the Commission.

4. Who has been invited to speak to the commission?

We've actually sent out very few invitations - time for the Commission has been very limited, and what we have not been able to do is to respond positively to the many requests we have received for people to make representations in person. There is simply not the time to be able to do this, and representations in person have been on a very limited basis. At our first meeting in Windsor, we invited four key theologians of international standing, who were at hand in England, to offer advice on the shape of the ecclesiological questions that we would be addressing; at our second meeting in Kanuga, we asked the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (USA) to bring a team to speak to us about different perceptions of the situation within that province; and we asked the Rt Revd Bob Duncan, as a leading voice of opposition in the Episcopal Church, to make his views known in person also, as we needed to understand clearly the nature and direction of the work of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes.

5. There has been criticism that only certain voices are being heard by the commission. Is this the case? What were the guidelines that decided who was allowed to present directly to its members?

Well, as I've said, very few people have actually had the opportunity to speak to the Commission in person. But I must say that there has been absolutely no intention of listening only to particular voices, or even the loudest voices. From the first, we sent out an open invitation for people to submit evidence to the Commission. Some groups appear to have been waiting for us to take the initiative to contact them. That has not been possible. But can I say again, that we don't want any voice to go unheard - the opportunity is there for all to make a submission to the Commission. And of course, the individual members of the Commission are listening all the time to the people they encounter in their ministries across the globe.

6. Is the commission still receiving evidence/presentations?

Yes. All are invited, without exception, to make written submissions to the Commission by means of the process set out on our website in the advisory of 18th December last year (http://www.anglicancommunion.org/acns/articles/37/00/acns3713.cfm).
Many groups and individuals have already elected to do so, and it is my understanding that all submissions made by this method have been acknowledged and processed for the consideration of the Commission. If anyone feels that any particular voice is going unheard by the Commission, then I urge them to make a submission by this route, bearing in mind the questions with which the Commission has been charged as they are set out in that advisory.

7. Should the commission's remit also have included the issue of sexuality, or was it justified to centre the commission's work purely on how to maintain the highest degree of communion when confronted by divisive issues?

The simple answer is that the Lambeth Commission was not asked to reconsider the teaching of Resolution 1.10 of the Lambeth Conference of 1998, and so it is not at liberty to do so. The question of ministry by or to persons of homosexual orientation is not a matter which can be debated beyond the position adopted there, because the Primates made it clear in their statement of last October that Resolution 1.10 remains the formally voiced teaching of the Anglican Communion on this issue. It is part of the basis on which the Commission must come to its conclusions, and is not open to renegotiation by the Commission.

8. Will the commission report on time, and what is the process after that?

Yes - I'm confident that the level of work will enable the Commission to complete its work by the end of September this year. The Standing Committees of The Primates' Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council will be meeting together in mid-October, and I'd like to deliver the report to the Archbishop of Canterbury in time for that meeting. However, its worth noting that the Report was commissioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury at the request of the Primates, so the report will go to the Standing Committee of the Primates' Meeting for their consideration, and not to the Joint Committees. It is the Standing Committee of the Primates which will have to come to a decision about how and when the Primates as a body will respond to the report, although there will have to be consultation with the Standing Committee of ACC because the Anglican Consultative Council will undoubtedly have to receive the report in due course as well.

9. Have you got any advice to offer the Communion in the meantime?

I am increasingly aware of the importance of keeping channels of communication open at every level of our Communion at this time. This, I feel, is particularly important when we remember that there is much alienation, hurt and bewilderment on all sides. I believe, from my experience in Northern Ireland, that division, when honestly confronted and understood, can so easily be turned into opportunity for the future. When the report is published, I hope that it will be read with prayer and generosity and will provide a basis to help us to face up to any future tensions, and to discern God's purposes for the Anglican Communion.