The Anglican Communion and Homosexuality

Structure and Content

The eight chapters of The Anglican Communion and Homosexuality are presented in four parts. Obviously it is possible to read the book from start to finish, as one would read a novel. However, there is no need to do this and it is expected that most readers will dip into different chapters at different times. The book is therefore designed in such a way that each chapter makes sense when read on its own. It is, however, helpful to understand the structure and rationale of the book as a whole, the connection between its different sections, and the variety of its styles and diversity of its authors.

The book opens with the two related issues which we have already seen provide the common ground and particular focus for the whole book and for the Listening Process of which it is part – mission and listening. In relation to mission, two perspectives are offered – one from Ian Douglas in the US and one from Michael Poon from Singapore. Each author then responds to the other, giving an example of respectful dialogue across differences in cultural and theological perspective. The chapter on listening is quite different from any other in the book. Much more than presenting an argument or a set of viewpoints, it provides you with a hands-on practical ‘how-to’ guide. This is jointly authored by two very experienced facilitators from quite different contexts, one from Canada (Janet Marshall) and one from Zambia (Charley Thomas). To be authentically Anglican, both our mission and our listening need to be directed by the authorities of Scripture, tradition and reason. These three areas therefore provide the structure and focus of the resources in the second section. In many ways these introduce us to the theological heart of the current debates. Those holding the views on sexuality expressed in the Communion’s current teaching need to be able to show how that teaching is authorized by these sources. Those calling for the Church to modify this stance need to explain ‘from within the sources of authority that we as Anglicans have received in scripture, the apostolic tradition and reasoned reflection’17 how and why they have reached that different understanding. Among these three sources Anglicans have held to the primacy of Scripture and any changes would need to persuade the Communion that they are compatible with Scripture. The Bible is examined therefore first and at greatest length. The editor, Phil Groves, provides an introduction to the subject of the place of Scripture, seeking common ground in the Anglican understanding of the nature and authority of Scripture which is explored through reference to the Thirty-Nine Articles. The book of Jude then guides a reflection on false teaching before two different perspectives on sexuality present their understanding of biblical teaching. The final sections look at some of the challenges faced in interpreting the Bible and how the Bible helps us when we have to consider whether a development in Christian thought and practice is faithful to Scripture. In the light of this overview focused more on method, a West Indian bishop, John Holder, and a lay biblical scholar from England, Paula Gooder, provide extensive resources on biblical texts. They help us engage with the specific teaching of the Old Testament and the New Testament in relation to sexuality as a whole and with particular reference to homosexuality.

The chapter on the witness of tradition captures the international and non- Western perspective of the resources more than any other chapter. It brought together Jaci Maraschin from Brazil and Samson Fan from Hong Kong, for both of whom English is not their first language. They set our current sexuality discussions in a broader historical and theological context by highlighting the distinction between tradition and traditions and helping us think through the relationship of tradition to both Scripture and reason. We are then enabled to consider current debates about the validity of blessing same-sex unions by looking at other areas where Anglicans have embraced and/or resisted changes to our traditions in recent decades.

The fifth chapter introduces one aspect of the work of reason by setting sexuality in the context of wider culture (another aspect of reason, that of science, is the focus in the final chapter). One of the major challenges in the Communion is undoubtedly the quite different cultures which Anglicans serve and the very varied understandings of sexuality and sexual ethics found within these. Our guides here are a bishop from Melanesia (Terry Brown) and a Ghanaian theologian (Victor Atta-Baffoe) with some additional material provided by Griphus Gakuru, a Ugandan priest working in England and John Kevern of the Episcopal Church in the USA. They begin by introducing us to different models of how Christians have understood the relationship of Christ to culture. These models are then made more concrete as we are provided with a taste of cross-cultural experience through introductions to the cultures of Uganda, North American Indigenous Peoples, South Africa and England and also to Anglican responses within them. The insights of anthropology and the different uses to which these have been put in Christian mission are then sketched before this approach is applied more directly to recent controversies. That application takes the form of highlighting some central features of Western culture and how these mould both ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ Western stances on sexuality. An African perspective on these deeper Western cultural forces and world views is then provided in order to shed light on some of the tensions over sexuality. Finally, the authors introduce the great variety of forms of homosexuality found within and across the cultures represented in the Communion.

Following the more academic contributions of Part Two, the next two chapters comprising Part Three have a different focus and so a different format and tone. The learning resources on Scripture, tradition and reason are provided to facilitate and give theological tools for wise listening and discriminating dialogue. It is such listening and dialogue that are displayed, exemplified and encouraged in chapters six and seven. As noted above, Lambeth 1.10 called on us to ‘listen to the experience of homosexual persons’. Some readers will already have done this but many will have no experience and perhaps no opportunity to do so in their context. Sue Burns (from Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia) and Janet Trisk (of Southern Africa) have engaged in that listening task and their contribution enables us to listen in on what they have heard and in particular to deepen our understanding of how questions of identity relate to sexuality. They provide extensive quotations from the wide range of people they listened to and in guiding us as we read they model how we can listen thoughtfully and prayerfully to often challenging and disturbing testimonies. Challenging, disturbing, thoughtful and prayerful dialogue across cultural and theological difference was the experience of Joseph Galgalo, a Kenyan theologian com- mitted to the Communion’s teaching on sexuality, and Debbie Royals, an indigenous woman theologian whose partner is also a woman priest in the Episcopal Church. They were brought together to contribute resources on the relationship of sexuality and spirituality. The fruit of their week together is shared in yet another different style as we are invited to listen in on a dialogue between the two of them covering a wide range of subjects which they had explored in their time together.

The final section contains a single chapter, which is probably the most technical of all the material in the book, that covers areas less familiar to most readers. As noted above, successive Lambeth Conferences have asked for scientific study to assist Christian thinking and the Primates particularly requested these resources. Biologist David de Pomerai and psychiatrist Glynn Harrison each produced very significant accounts of the scientific research and literature. These focus on the fields of biological and genetic factors in relation to homosexuality and possible interventions in the forms of counselling or therapy. For those who would find the scientific detail of their work too complex, they have provided helpful executive summaries of their work.