The Anglican Communion and Homosexuality

Homosexualities and Culture

Terry Brown, Victor Atta-Baffoe and Phil Groves Additional material from Griphus Gakuru and John Kevern


This is a key chapter in the book. It concludes section two by examining culture as an aspect of the third traditional component of the Anglican way - reason. It also acts as a transition from this section’s more conceptual and theological material to the focus on listening and dialogue in the following third section where we encounter more directly human beings in their cultural settings. The Virginia Report presented to Lambeth 1998 spoke of ‘reason’ as ‘simply the human being’s capacity to symbolize, and so to order, share and communicate experience’ or ‘what can be called “the mind of a particular culture”, with its characteristic ways of seeing things, asking about them, and explaining them’. It then said, ‘If tradition is the mind that Christians share as believers and members of the Church, reason is the mind they share as participants in a particular culture . The interplay with Scripture and tradition was then described in the following terms:

Anglicanism sees reason in the sense of the ‘mind’ of the culture in which the Church lives and the Gospel is proclaimed, as a legitimate and necessary instrument for the interpretation of God’s message in the Scriptures. Sometimes Scriptures affirm the new insights of a particular age or culture, sometimes they challenge or contradict those insights. The Word of God is addressed to the Church as it is part of this world. The Gospel borne by the Scriptures must be heard and interpreted in the language that bears the ‘mind’ and distils the experience of the world. Tradition and reason are therefore in the Anglican way two distinct contexts in which Scriptures speak and out of which they are inter-preted.

What the Virginia Report goes on to say has particular bearing on our discussions on sexuality: how we understand ourselves as sexual beings, and the fact that the relationship between sexuality and society varies enormously across cultures. It is therefore vital that in considering sexuality we recall that:

The experience of the Church as it is lived in different places has something to contribute to the discernment of the mind of Christ for the Church. No one culture, no one period of history has a monopoly of insight into the truth of the Gospel. It is essential for the fullest apprehension of truth that context is in dialogue with context. Sometimes the lived experience of a particular community enables Christian truth to be perceived afresh for the whole community. At other times a desire for change or restatement of the faith in one place provokes a crisis within the whole Church.

We hope in the few brief pages of this chapter to enable you to think more clearly about your own culture, others’ cultures and the relationship of Christ and mission to those cultures. In order to try to understand how Christians have sought to relate their faith to their culture the chapter begins with H. Richard Niebuhr’s five types of relationship: Christ against culture; Christ transforming culture; Christ above culture; Christ and culture in paradox; and Christ of culture. Four case studies from across the Communion then illustrate how reality is much more complex than these ideal types, and seek to help you consider your own attitudes. An alternative type, called Culture in Christ, is explored by a Ugandan contributor from his experience of biblical Christianity and martyrdom.

After noting that the Bible is also a culturally located document, a brief introduction is offered as to how insights about our various cultures today - and the culture of the Bible - can be gained from the discipline of anthropology. The final two sections begin to relate this more directly to the areas of current disagreement and tension in our Communion life. In order to encourage and enable mutual listening brief and limited examinations are offered of both European and African cultural assumptions. You are encouraged to use these to think about your own cultural assumptions and understand better those who come from a different culture. The last section warns against simply thinking about ‘homosexuality’. It argues that it is necessary to realise that the diversity of cultures leads to a diversity of homosexualities in and across those cultures. This raises the question of whether we need to take more care to explore fully our different experiences and understandings of the phenomenon to which we are seeking to develop a biblical, pastoral Christian response. Here again, the real work is left to you the reader, as you are encouraged to engage with your own preconceptions as we proclaim that Christ is one, the Lord and saviour of all, in the diversity of human cultures.

The writing of this chapter has involved many people both mentioned and unnamed within the text in order to draw on the diverse cultures of the Communion. We value the advice they have all given. The main authors are Terry Brown, a bishop from Melanesia, and Victor Atta-Baffoe, a theologian from Ghana, each of whom brings a wealth of intercultural experience; but many people have contributed to this chapter.


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Tutu, Desmond. “Foreword”, in Dormor, Duncan and Morris, Jeremy (ed), An Acceptable Sacrifice? Homosexuality and the Church, London: SPCK, 2007

Walls, Andrew “The Ephesian Moment - At a Crossroads in Christian History”, in The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History, Maryknoll New York: Orbis, 2002
Whitehead, Ray ‘Christ and Cultural Imperialism’ in Christopher Lind and Terry Brown (eds), Justice as Mission: An Agenda for the Church, Burlington Ontario: Trinity Press, 1985

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 “The Kairos Document.” 1985.


The Virginia Report

Church of Uganda Position Paper on Scripture, Authority, and Human Sexuality May 2005

Mark MacDonald
‘The Gospel Comes to North America’

Mark MacDonald, ‘Aboriginal Christianity/Ecological Christianity: A Church of and for Turtle Island’

‘The Kairos Document’ 1985 available online:

‘Civil Partnerships- A pastoral statement from the House of Bishops of the Church of England’

General Synod of the Church of England – Summary of Business Conducted on Wednesday 28th February pm’

Rowan Williams, ‘Archbishop of Canterbury’s Liverpool lecture – Europe, Faith and Culture’,-faith-and-culture.aspx

Guest Blogger Jasper Goldberg; 19 December 2007

John W. Howe SEX: Should We Change the Rules?

Andrew Walls, ‘The Ephesian Moment

See also

Chigor Chike  - Beyond the Homosexuality Debate

Caroline Hall - Cultural Influences on American Episcopalians

Donald Whipple Fox - A Dakota Reflection on ‘Individuality’ within ‘Commonality