Submission from the Central Trustees of the Worldwide Mothers'Union
The Mothers’ Union (MU) has more than 3.5 million members in 75 countries world wide. The MU shares the struggles of the wider Anglican Communion as it seeks to reconcile ecclesial authority and collective responsibility with local autonomy and pastoral care and outreach. The MU supports fully the aim of this Lambeth Commission on Communion in finding new ways forward from within the Anglican Communion.
The Trustees of the Mothers’ Union believe that the phrase “diversity within unity” can only be realistic if the values that unite us are greater than the issues that drive us apart. There is much diversity in the way that the MU functions world wide, including flexibility in criteria for membership and appointing of leaders. The overarching value that unites us is belief in, and support of, Christian marriage and family life world wide, as a means of mission in our world.
We are well aware that it is not the brief of the Lambeth Commission to address human sexuality directly, but it is this issue that has precipitated the current difficulties in the Communion and led us in the MU to consider how we too should address this issue. A previous Trustee Board had directly affirmed the 1998 Lambeth Resolution in respect of human sexuality. The current Trustees recognised that a new, wider and more compre-hensive approach was essential if the MU was to resource its world wide membership in empowering and enabling members to take a proper place in the debates within the Anglican Communion.
Three years ago, the Board of Trustees mandated the Prayer & Spirituality Unit (P&S) to begin researching sexuality issues as a result of a local pastoral issue that threatened relationships between the MU and the Church in that diocese. P&S produced a research paper on a wide variety of sexuality issues, questions for identifying the way forward in the MU, and prayer and worship material.
Our research shows that some of the most difficult challenges the Church faces regarding sexuality are as much about heterosexual as homosexual behaviour. We are very concerned about the increasing attitudes and practices of sexuality as purely consumerist or recreational in many cultures. Education in the home, schools and the Church is desperately lacking or at best inconsistent. Yet where the elements of meaningful, interpersonal relationships and commitment are lacking, and sexuality is treated with less respect, abuses at all levels and among all age groups are now rife.
It was in this context therefore, that the Unit then provided a facilitated Day on sexuality issues for the Trustee Board (led by Revd Canon Dr Gavin Ashenden, Sussex University Chaplain.) in 2003. This was followed by a presentation at our World Wide Council to Diocesan Presidents later that year; further research; and a second Day (again facilitated by Dr Ashenden) at our 2004 World Wide Council, which widened the debate to include marriage, cohabitation and divorce.
One consequence of these sessions is that P&S are presently producing
a series of accessible booklets for our wider membership to discuss in their
own dioceses. These are:
An Introductory Booklet exploring the relationships between interpretations of the Bible, cultures and traditions; one’s identity, faith, sexuality and spirituality; Church governance and Government legislations; the Anglican Communion as a whole and local autonomy; the power of the Press; and critically, the way forward for the MU.
A Study Guide exploring how to manage discussions at a diocesan level with questions for reflection. We are using a Reconciliation model for learning to live with different opinions rather than trying to find agreement at all costs. This is accompanied by prayers, reflections, Scripture, further reading and resources, and ways to offer pastoral support.
Special Issues Leaflets which will focus on specific issues in detail. They
will include different viewpoints, scenarios and questions to explore the
issues as widely as possible and with prayers and scriptural reflections.
They will be accompanied by suggested further reading and resources, and
should be used with both the above booklets to support the discussions.
Special Issues will include: homosexuality, marriage and cohabitation, divorce and remarriage, single people, intersex issues, gender equality, IVF and reproductive technology, abortion and euthanasia.
With these booklets we hope to widen the sexuality debate so that informed and prayerful dialogue can begin among MU members at grass roots levels; and that sexuality is not reduced only to homosexuality or the Anglican Communion reduced purely to a division about homosexuality.
The P&S Unit will continue to research and monitor sexuality issues but we have three specific views in respect of matters put before the Lambeth Commission on Communion:
Practically MU members are already dealing with differences between dioceses, and with a predominantly female membership we strive to offer non-confrontational approaches to resolving these complex issues. We are actively engaged in many peace, reconciliation, conflict prevention and conflict reconciliation programmes. For us therefore, it is essential that this debate is conducted as peacefully as possible.
The Lambeth Commission on Communion’s Final Report will have a significant impact on families world wide and our work at grassroots levels in and among those families. We are actively participating in the debates not in order to find common agreement or unanimity within the MU, but to find ways of respecting and living with our different opinions and local concerns.
Pastoral sensitivity, wise theological reflection, constant prayer and listening to God are for us critical in this journey. We in the MU want to walk forward together within the Anglican Communion but in a spirit of informed honesty. We want to learn to live with our differences in God’s name before our koinonia is beyond repair. We continue to pray for God’s guidance and grace on the Lambeth Commission on Communion.