The Listening Process

Reports from the Provinces - Church of the Province of Melanesia.

Generally speaking, heterosexual marriage and extended family life are the norm for Melanesia. There are, of course, some homosexual relationships and homosexual persons but, somehow, these tend to get absorbed into family and community life without much comment. It is not generally thought seemly to discuss sex publicly.

However, after the 1998 Lambeth Conference, the Church of Melanesia Council of Bishops authorised one of their number, Terry Brown the Bishop of Malaita - who had written an earlier study paper on the same issue prior to 1998 Lambeth Conference - to write a study paper on the issue. It was entitled "Further Reflections on Homosexuality, Christian Faith and the Church". The paper looked at homosexuality in terms of interpretation of Scripture, Christian doctrine, causes and significance of homosexuality, cultural and cross-cultural issues, and male friendship in Melanesia. In these areas, he also reflected on his experience as "someone with a primarily homosexual orientation".

There was some discussion of the paper in the Council of Bishops but no common agreement on the issue. It was then passed on the Church of Melanesia Commission on Liturgy, Worship and Doctrine for further discussion and recommendations. However, because of other pressing programmes, not much more actually happened.

Because of international publicity on the issue, the following motion was moved at the  General Synod of the Church of Melanesia in 2005:

"That this General Synod expresses its opposition to sexual co-habitation by members of the same gender and same-sex marriages."

There was extensive and lively debate, and eventually it was decided that not enough research and listening had been done to pass the motion at that time. The mover and seconder agreed to an alternative wording:

"That this General Synod reaffirms its support for the Church's traditional teaching on marriage but requests the Executive Council to sponsor a workshop or series of workshops on the many issues involved in the general question of homosexuality."

This motion was agreed to without opposition.

In 2006 there was discussion of this workshop in the Commission on Liturgy, Worship and Doctrine but because of episcopal consecrations, other programmes and financial constraints, it was not possible to plan it for 2007. However, a recent meeting of the Commission has authorised the Co-ordinator for Liturgy and Doctrine to plan such a consultation for early 2008, to enable the Church of Melanesia to discuss the issue before the 2008 Lambeth Conference.

The Church of Melanesia hopes it will be able to create safe space so members of the Church or others will be willing to identify themselves as gay or lesbian, but if that fails they are intending to use printed stories from Other Voices, Other Worlds: the Global Church Speaks out on Homosexuality to facilitate the Listening Process. This is a book Bishop Terry Brown published which includes gay and lesbian voices from around the Anglican Communion. The book has had some circulation in the Church of Melanesia.

To enable listening there is an urgent need to clarify the legal status of homosexuality in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. It is hoped that the Church of Melanesia's two vice chancellors will be helpful in this area. It is expected that all the Bishops and a broad range of clergy and laity will take part in the 2008 consultation.