The Listening Process

Reports from the Provinces

The Facilitator of the Listening Process has collated relevant research studies, statements, resolutions and other material on human sexuality from the various Provinces. Summaries of the responses  are here available for study, discussion and reflection across the Communion. This was called for by ACC 13 and commended by the Primates in their communiqué of their meeting in February 2005.

Background

The 1978 Lambeth Conference recognised “the need for deep and dispassionate study of the question of homosexuality, which would take seriously both the teaching of Scripture and the results of scientific and medical research.” It also said that “While we reaffirm heterosexuality as the scriptural norm, we recognise The Church, recognising the need for pastoral concern for those who are homosexual, encourages dialogue with them.”

In 1988 the Conference reaffirmed these calls and urged “that such study and reflection to take account of biological, genetic and psychological research being undertaken by other agencies, and the socio-cultural factors that lead to the different attitudes in the provinces of our Communion” and called “each province to reassess, in the light of such study and because of our concern for human rights, its care for and attitude towards persons of homosexual orientation.”

The 1998 Conference recognised “that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God’s transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ.”

The Process of Monitoring

The monitoring process to discern the fruits of the processes requested by the Lambeth Conferences has taken over a year. Letters have been sent out to each of the Provinces asking for information. In many cases a province has asked someone to liase with the Facilitator. The responses have been received by the Facilitator. Many of those include official statements of provincial bodies such as statements form a house of Bishops, official reports, resolutions of general synods  and similar such items. Also included are press releases and statements of Primates. These are held at the Anglican Communion Office.

In many cases the information contained in the summaries has been passed on orally in conversations between the Facilitator and individual Primates or their appointed representatives.

For each of the Provinces of the Communion the Facilitator has then written a short summary reflecting any studies and seeking to reflect on the commitment to listen to the experience of homosexual people. These summaries have then been presented to each Primate and amended by them. Every summary is thus the work of the Facilitator, but endorsed by the Primate of the Province concerned. They are not reports on, but reports with, each Province.

An Overview of the Summaries

The summaries indicate that some of the churches of the Communion the process of study of homosexuality and dialogue with lesbians and gays has a long history. In the 1950’s Archbishop Michael Ramsey committed himself to the decriminalisation of homosexual acts in England. In the 1970’s the Anglican Church in Canada and the Episcopal Church in the USA studied homosexuality, entered into dialogue with homosexuals. The Canadian Bishops in 1997 said “We are thankful to see a new sensitivity emerging towards gay and lesbian persons in the Church. No longer can we talk in the abstract. We are experiencing a growing awareness that the persons of whom we speak are among us. They are our sons and daughters. They are our friends and relatives.”

The results of the monitoring process shows that the straightforward division of the Communion into “liberal” provinces in the “North” and “conservative” Provinces in the “South” is simplistic.

Churches of the “South” such as the Anglican Church of Southern Africa and the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil have entered into extensive listening. For example: the statement of the 2002 Rio consultation on homosexuality declared: “Any kind of exclusion contains worms of death. Love is inclusion and life in its fullness.” A statement which would be more commonly connected with the “North”.

In Westernized countries of the so called “North”, listening has not been easy. One spokesperson for a diocese in Australia said: “The ‘listening process’ in his diocese became a time of ‘shouting’ rather than listening.” And the Primate reflects that the Anglican Church in Australia may need to reflect seriously on this situation and consider how it can overcome such insensitivity. Australia is not the only Province of the “North” which has faced  the difficulties involved in creating safe places.

Other provinces have been unable to find the words and the space in which to discuss such issues. In cultures as diverse as Korea and West Africa sexuality is not talked about at all in society. Similarly the report from Japan states: “The culture does not allow for talking about sexuality and so there is little awareness in the congregations of the presence or otherwise of lesbian or gay people and no need, or way, of talking about that. In this context it is hard for listening to happen, but the church is continuing to accept and value all people.”

In other places the issues facing the church have been so enormous that they have stretched the church to the limit. Wars in Sudan and the Congo and the difficulties faced in Burundi have meant that talk of the listening process is someone else’s external agenda, a luxury which cannot be afforded.

Other Churches have stressed the need to faithfulness to Scripture and tradition. The Church of Uganda says “Concerning homosexual behaviour and relationships in particular, from a plain reading of Scripture, from a careful reading of Scripture and from a critical reading of Scripture, it has no place in God’s design of creation, the continuation of the human race through procreation, or His plan of redemption.” Such sentiments are echoed in the reports from Provinces such as Nigeria and Kenya.

The Church of Uganda has responded to the commitment to listen to homosexual persons saying:  “We believe that God is calling the Church of Uganda to seek continual transformation from the Word of God written, in preaching repentance and faith in Christ and develop ministries of pastoral care that don’t ostracize, shun, or reject those tempted by homosexual desire” and developing the growth in numbers of well trained (to masters level) Christian counsellors who live out the Church’s mission to offer love for all, including those who are homosexual.

Churches, such as the Church of Wales and the Church of Ireland set out the range of opinions held by their members, each one emerging from a reading of scripture which has integrity of interpretation. For them the period of discernment and careful listening needs to continue.

Some Provinces, such as the Indian Ocean and Melanesia are only now beginning to engage in study and listening. In some places new primates have injected new energy, in others there is a growing awareness of the need to engage in a pressing issue for our mission in the world.

Some Provinces are aware of other pressing concerns in the area of human sexuality. The issue of violence towards women is pressing in the Province of Papua New Guinea and supporting marriage vital for The Church of Hong Kong and Myanmar.

Continuing the Monitoring Process

The Facilitator is committed to continuing to monitor and report developments in all Provinces. He is also keen to support the process of listening in each of the Provinces as they continue to study, to listen to the experience of homosexual people and to listen to one another.

Developing Resources

In preparation for the Lambeth Conference the Facilitator For the Listening Process has been asked by the Primates to prepare materials to enable us to hear the Spirit of God speaking to us through the Scriptures, our tradition and reason. This will be done through careful study of the Bible, and tradition and the sharing of interpretations, stories as well as the study of science and cultures. The aim is to hear God and engage in his mission to all people in evangelism, discipleship, service and striving for justice.