In a session Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey called “difficult and painful,” the Lambeth Conference approved a statement on sexuality on Aug. 5 that rejects homosexual practice as “incompatible with Scripture.”
The resolution, amended during nearly three hours of debate, commits the church to “listen to the experience of homosexual people,” and calls homosexuals “full members of the Body of Christ.”
It also condemns “irrational fear of homosexuals.”
But conservative views prevailed in requiring “abstinence” for anyone not married. The resolution also says the conference “cannot advise the legitimizing or blessing of same-sex unions, nor the ordination of those involved in such unions.”
The final vote was overwhelmingly in favour of the amended resolution, with 526 bishops voting in favor to only 70 voting against. Forty-five bishops abstained.
But immediately after the conference, close to 150 bishops – including Primate Michael Peers and eight other Canadian bishops – signed a pastoral statement to gay and lesbian Anglicans which reads in part, “We pledge that we will continue to reflect, pray and work for your full inclusion in the life of the church … We call on the entire Communion to continue (and in many places, begin) prayerful, respectful conversation on the issue of homosexuality. We must not stop where this conference has left off. You, our brothers and sisters in Christ, deserve a more thorough hearing than you received over the past three weeks. We will work to make that so.”
The Canadian section of Integrity, a group of Anglican gays and lesbians, took comfort from this statement, according to a news release from spokesman Chris Ambidge. Mr. Ambidge noted that Integrity was “disappointed and discouraged” at the “extremely conservative motion on homosexuals in the Anglican Church. At the same time, we are very encouraged by the level of support shown by the bishops who signed the pastoral statement to lesbian and gay Anglicans immediately after the debate.”
Mr. Ambidge said he was also pleased with Archbishop Peers’ statement that “I must disassociate myself from any who perceive this action as a `victory.’ … The debate was marked at times by outright condemnations of homosexual persons, sometimes phrased in viciously prejudicial language. This is not consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ as I understand it.”
In an interview after the conference, the vice-president of Fidelity, a conservative Canadian Anglican group, said it’s important that Lambeth spoke with a clear voice on the issue. The church was simply reaffirming its current teaching and practices, Canon Paul Feheley said.
“I think it’s important in that it’s a gracious statement and a generous statement,” he said, noting that the resolution commits the church to continue listening.
“We feel affirmed in terms of what was said and we recognize the need to continue to dialogue,” Canon Feheley said, noting the group itself had not met since Lambeth to discuss the issue.
In the debate, several speakers objected to saying homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture.
“You can pass this, but you will not have a strong statement,” said Bishop Catherine Roskam of New York. While a previous speaker, Bishop Peter Adebiyi of Owo (Nigeria), had called any condoning of homosexuality “evangelical suicide,” Bishop Roskam asserted that “to condemn it, in the form it has been condemned, is evangelistic suicide in my region.”
Archbishop Carey endorsed the resolution as standing “wholeheartedly with traditional Anglican orthodoxy.
“I see no room in Holy Scripture or the entire Christian tradition for any sexual activity outside matrimony,” he said. “The amended motion actually is simply saying what we’ve all held … Anglican belief and morality stand for.”
With files from Kathy Blair