Canadian Anglican Statements on Homosexuality Please Both
Sides in Debate
Amidst heated debate in the Anglican Communion over the morality of homosexual acts, Canada's bishops have issued a new statement on human sexuality that is being praised by both progressives and traditionalists.
"Human Sexuality" is a revision of the guidelines issued by the bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada in 1979. Although the new guidelines repeat the earlier prohibitions on homosexual activity, the October 29 statement shows special concern for pastoral difficulties that have become apparent during the past eight years.
"The church affirms its traditional teaching that only the sexual union of male and female can find appropriate expression within the covenant of Holy Matrimony," says a portion of the statement. "However, we recognise that some homosexuals live in committed sexual relationships for mutual support, help and comfort. We wish to continue open and respectful dialogue with those who sincerely believe that sexuality expressed within a committed homosexual relationship is God's call to them, and we affirm our common desire to seek together the fullness of life revealed in Christ."
The statement is "fabulous" compared to the 1979 guidelines, comment Bonnie Crawford-Bewley and Chris Ambidge, co-conveners of the Toronto chapter of Integrity, a gay Anglican organization. In the chapter's most recent newsletter, Ms. Crawford-Bewley and Mr. Ambidge say that they are disappointed that the bishops still will not allow the blessing of gay unions or the ordination of sexually active gay clergy. Their disagreement with the statement, though, is confined to a few phrases. "All the rest of the document is very helpful, talking about pastoral understanding, underpinned with good theology," the conveners say.
Most remarkable, they say, are the passages where the bishops call for repentance by those who have mistreated homosexuals and where they say that homosexuals' views and experiences are henceforth to be considered an important part of the dialogue.
Fidelity, an Anglican organization that favors the traditional Christian teachings on homosexuality, is equally pleased by the statement.
"Fidelity found the statement to be a very good statement, a very fair statement," says the Rev. Canon A. Paul Feheley, vice president of the organization. "There are small phrases that we would quibble with, but not enough to ask it to be changed. Overall, it's a document that's consistent with what Fidelity believes."
Commenting on popular perceptions that Fidelity members are anti-gay, Father Feheley says, "The pastoral concern for gay people is always paramount in our minds, and I think the document moves that forward. I think the statement calls us to a deeper dialogue, saying, Let's leave the labels behind and continue to work together if we can."
Such a dialogue has already begun to take place in the Diocese of Toronto. For the past two years, Father Feheley, Mr. Ambidge, and four other members of Fidelity and Integrity have been taking part in a dialogue group convened by the bishop of Toronto, the Right Rev. Terence Finlay. Two weeks after the bishops issued their statement, the dialogue group issued their own statement, "Emerging Common Ground," a document exploring the areas in which Fidelity and Integrity have been able to agree.
The dialogue group's statement condemns the use of Scripture as a "hammer" against opponents, praises Christian tradition and heterosexual marriage, opposes violence and exploitation in sexual relationships, says that moral norms must take into account any human pain that results, affirms with the bishops that homosexuals are "children of God," agrees that Christians must re-form themselves to be "closer to the image of Christ," and states that the Christian church may at times "experience a new insight from the Lord, which needs to be respected but which must also be tested."
Father Feheley stresses the provisional nature of the statement, saying, "We're on the way up the mountain, as opposed to being on the top yet, but I think it's a notable achievement. At least we can keep climbing steps together."
Mr. Ambidge agrees and says he is hopeful that Anglicans will gradually be able to come to a full understanding on matters of sexuality. "The church is the body of Christ; God is not going to let it die," he says. "If God sent Jesus to die for the church, God is not going to let the church blow up over something like this."
World Feature: Pro-Gay and Ex-Gay – Is There Room for Dialogue? By Heather Elizabeth Peterson. For nearly three decades, the pro-gay and ex-gay ministries have competed for the souls of gay men and women, each movement convinced that the other is tragically mistaken in its views on homosexuality. Now a small number of people on both sides of the issue are striving to find common ground. (December 1997)
Emerging Common Ground. By the Right Rev. Terence Finlay et al.
Washington Feature: Visions, Not Arguments: Canada's Anglican Primate Seeks Unity and Inclusiveness. By Heather Elizabeth Peterson. "Our assurance and God's plan may not always be on the same track," Archbishop Michael G. Peers told an Episcopal congregation during a recent visit to Washington. In an interview with Greenbelt Interfaith News, the head of the Anglican Church of Canada speaks about better ways for the world's Anglicans to achieve unity and inclusiveness. (July 31, 1997)
U.S. Feature: The Quiet Revolution: How a Heresy Trial Has Rocked the Episcopal Church. By Heather Elizabeth Peterson. Last year, an Episcopal bishop was tried for heresy after he ordained a practicing homosexual. Recent events show that Episcopalians continue to be deeply divided over gay issues. (June 1, 1997)
© 1997 Heather Elizabeth