Photo: Art Babych
General Synod 2007 asked the faith, worship and ministry committee to develop a process to engage dioceses and parishes in the study of the Christian perspective on human sexuality.
“We were to create an opportunity for all of us to step away from the hotly debated issues surrounding…the blessing of same-sex unions [and] to engage in dialogue and study of the more general topic of human sexuality,” explained Lela Zimmer. The primate appointed Zimmer the anchor person for the sexuality task group, and she reported the results of its work to General Synod 2010.
Members of the task group felt they had to hear from the church and decided to work with focus groups. They asked metropolitans and bishops to recommend facilitators; those who accepted were offered training with Bishop Stephen Andrews (as a theologian) and psychologists who work as therapists.
However, Zimmer said that the task group’s requests to conduct focus group sessions at provincial or diocesan synods or other gatherings got a “lukewarm” response. Some dioceses said the discussion would “only be disruptive and negative and that they wanted no part of it;” others felt they had already discussed it thoroughly and didn’t want to participate, Zimmer said.
In the end, the task force heard from six focus groups- two at provincial meetings-the province of Canada and the province of BC and Yukon, and three from the diocese of the Arctic, Toronto and Ontario. The sixth focus group was with Canadian Forces chaplains.
The groups were asked these questions:
- Why is it so important?
- What does it mean to be faithful Christians in the expression of our sexuality?
- What stories and passages from the Bible inform our thinking and beliefs about sexuality?
- What other things frame our thinking and attitudes about sexuality?
- What are healthy and unhealthy expressions of sexuality?
- What are the issues that need to be discussed in our communities about sexuality?
- What resources are needed to study human sexuality?
Most of the groups agreed that expressions of sexuality should be grounded in Scripture. However, there were differences of opinion about whether or not the Bible provides specific instructions about how to express sexuality or if Christians should look for “broader ethical themes such as love, justice, honesty” and reflections about how to weave them into their lives and expressions of sexuality.
There was also general agreement that there is a need for “a really robust conversation in the church about human sexuality…one that gets beyond the place of gays and lesbians in our community…and beyond the physical aspects of sexuality,” Zimmer reported. “The conversation should be holistic. We should look carefully at how we engage youth on this subject, how we help couples to embrace the gift of human sexuality. It should include sexual exploitation and unhealthy relationships but to do that with sensitivity, and about rites of passage….We need also to consider single people and people who live in celibacy in our conversation.”
As requested by General Synod 2007, Faith, Worship and Ministry created a web resource on the subject, entitled Created in the Image of God. “This resource is a work in progress,” said Zimmer. “It will continue to evolve as we get feedback and as new knowledge and new resources become available.” Nevertheless, she added, “it’s a starting place” that provides guidelines on how to have respectful conversation well even when there are differences of opinion.