Church Challenged to Be 'Safe Place' for Homosexuals, Says Anglican Head

The Church is challenged to show that it is truly a safe place for people to be honest and where they may be confident that they will have their human dignity respected, said the head of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams spoke just after the Anglican Communion made available an interim report on churches' commitment to listen to the experience of homosexual people.

"The commitments of the Communion are not only to certain theological positions on the question of sexual ethics but also to a manifest and credible respect for the proper liberties of homosexual people," Williams stated.

The Communion had passed resolutions over the past several decades, recognizing the need to study the question of homosexuality, which has wracked churches worldwide. In 1998, the decennial Lambeth Conference called each of the global body's 38 provinces to minister pastorally to all people, including homosexuals, and listen to their experience.

"There are contexts where it is difficult to find a safe place for gay and lesbian people to speak about their lives openly," said the Anglican leader. "There are contexts where people assume the debate is over. The report shows that listening is possible, but also that there is a great deal still to be done. The work continues, but we have a solid start here."

Summaries detailing the progress of listening and the stance on homosexuality from all Anglican provinces were made fully available Tuesday on the Internet for the entire Communion to have access to. Some have reported their start to "The Listening Process" but have also affirmed their position against homosexuality is not being compromised by listening to homosexual persons.

Primates (Anglican leaders) recently gave the Episcopal Church – the U.S. wing of Anglicanism – a Sept. 30 deadline to respond to a moratorium on consecrating homosexuals and blessing same-sex unions. The Episcopal Church had heightened controversy over homosexuality when it consecrated an openly gay bishop in 2003.

While the Anglican churches affirm that homosexuality is incompatible to Scripture, Williams expressed concern about violence and abuse against homosexual people.

"I share the concerns expressed about situations where the Church is seen to be underwriting social or legal attitudes which threaten these proper liberties [of homosexual people]," stated Williams. "It is impossible to read this [interim] report without being aware that in many places – including Western countries with supposedly 'liberal' attitudes – hate crimes against homosexual people have increased in recent years and have taken horrifying and disturbing forms."

In America, there is a new push to reintroduce a hate-crimes bill in hopes of expanding the definition of hate crimes to include gays. The death of a 72-year-old gay man has spurred a campaign to amend federal and state hate-crime laws to protect gays.

Some conservatives say, however, there are too few instances of hate crimes against homosexuals and that the bill is trying to silence people of faith.

Matt Barber, policy director for Cultural Issues for Concerned Women of America, cited FBI statistics noting there were only around 1,000 hate crimes last year and of those, 14 percent were supposedly motivated by bias toward homosexuals or cross-dressers. And of those, a third was harassment by only words.

The new bill is really "an attempt to silence people of faith to silence any opposition, essentially, of the homosexual lifestyle," said Barber.

Nevertheless, the Anglican head said "no one reading this [interim] report can be complacent" about the hate crimes situation. And The Listening Process is challenging Anglican churches to offer safety, security and freedom from censure for gay and lesbian people to share their experience without ridicule.