The Listening Process

Theological Basis for the Study Guide

The 1976 meeting of ACC 3 said this about the Communion:

“As in the first century, we can expect the Holy Spirit to press us to listen to each other, to state new insights frankly, and to accept implications of the Gospel new to us, whether painful or exhilarating.” [1]

Since then, we in the Anglican Communion have often found new insights to be both painful and exhilarating. Through the 1980s and 1990s the Churches where Anglican Christianity was comfortably part of the culture were greatly challenged by the call from the dynamic churches of Africa and Asia, to move from ministry to mission. Churches which had based their ministry around pastoral care of a fixed community found it hard to accept the call for a Decade of Evangelism. It was painful to accept their failure to see the mission imperative in their own location. However, wherever they responded and took mission in their own context seriously, these churches have been rejuvenated.

Such developments as “Fresh Expressions of Church” and the desire to break the bonds of extreme poverty, now represented in the church’s support for the Millennium Development Goals, have enabled churches in Europe and America to reconnect with the Mission of God.

Ways of responding to new understandings of human sexuality in some cultures have given us a fresh challenge. They have led some to believe they have new insights and others to see those insights as contrary to the way of Christ. The prime task for each of us is to hear what God is saying. We can only do this by listening to each other. As the Archbishop of Canterbury has quoted “Only the whole church knows the whole truth.”[2]

The Church of Uganda has asked to be listened to in this manner. In its Position Paper published for ACC 13 it says: “We (also) believe the Church of Uganda has a mission to the Anglican Communion to share the treasure of the Scriptures and to call other parts of the Communion to recognize and to submit to the Authority of Scripture as the place of transformation into abundant life.”[3] This is an uncomfortable message for some. It is a reminder from the church which faced political violence and oppression with love and forgiveness, as well as bearing the brunt of the AIDS/HIV pandemic with loving service,  that its witness is founded on an uncompromising commitment to Jesus as seen trough the Bible.

The Episcopal Church of the USA has also called for the kind of uncomfortable listening envisioned at ACC 3.  In response to the call of the Windsor Report,[4] they offered the report To Set Our Hope on Christ also to ACC 13.[5] In this report they sought to explain why “in good faith and in loving obedience to the saving Word of God, many Christians in the Episcopal Church have come to a new mind about same-sex affection, and of how this has led us to affirm the eligibility for ordination of those in covenanted same-sex unions.”[6] They too believe that their insight is “in loving obedience to the saving Word of God”. This is painful for many to hear.

ACC 3 in 1976 reflected on partnership in the Church of the New Testament. They said: “Christian partnership did not then mean that the partners, although united in their missionary goals, were always in accord on how they were to carry out this mission – witness the disagreement between Peter and Paul in Galatians 2. Rather they were asked to face each other, and the roots of their disagreement and agreement, so openly that both could go forward in mutual love and respect into further creative activity.”[7]

The Anglican Communion has an agreed statement of its mission  - The Five Marks of Mission.[8] We need to begin on this common ground of our mission purpose. We then need to face one another, as Peter and Paul did, and admit our differences as to how we carry out those goals. We are asked to face one another and the roots of our disagreements and agreements. We need to do this openly so that, as a Communion, we can go forward in mutual love and respect for further creative activity in building up the Kingdom of God.

In a debate which has become intensely polarised, the form of the materials we offer will attempt to follow Biblical patterns. We hope to listen to one another with love and mutual respect. This is our Anglican tradition and the only reasonable way forwards.

1. Common Ground

The foundation for our dialogue needs has to be common ground. ACC 3 talked of common ground as being our common mission. This remains the basis for our shared life today.

Our mission is to all people, including gay and lesbian people, their families, their friends and those with whom they work. Our mission is with gay and lesbian people as members of our churches and partners in the gospel. This has always has been the case, even when we did not know it.

To accept this does not mean that we have to accept same sex partnerships or partnered gay clergy. Historically and in the present day many of the gay and lesbian people who have served the church in mission and ministry, both lay and ordained, have not accepted such partnerships for themselves nor seen them as valid expressions of a holy life for others.

In our present time more and more societies are accepting gay lifestyles as valid and morally acceptable. Many countries are committed by law to allowing gay rights and offering same sex unions. This means we are required to engage in these societies in a new way.

Agreeing to listen does not imply that we must accept the position of those to whom we are listening.  However it does mean that we seek to hear God speaking to us and discover his will. It does require that we offer respect and, perhaps change the way in which we speak.

All the Churches of our communion are agreed on the need to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom, to teach, baptise and nurture new believers, to respond to human need by loving service and to seek to transform unjust structures of society. It is on this ground we begin our conversations.

2. Creating Safe Space - Allowing All to be Heard

The monitoring process has enabled the Facilitator for the Listening Process to collate materials from the Provinces of the Communion. Several have submitted studies and papers. These will be used to inform the Study Guide. There are many books and articles written on the subjects and they will also be used to inform the Study Guide. Jesus respected religious leaders and scholars such as Nicodemus and the voices of such people are vital for the task. There wisdom and learning are vital to us.

However, they are not the only voices which we need to hear. In 1998 The Lambeth Conference made a commitment to “listen to the experience of homosexual persons”. Such people have a huge range of experiences and many have responded to the good news of God’s Kingdom with joy and follow God with commitment.

Jesus valued the voices of those considered insignificant in the eyes of the world in which he lived: for him it was women, children, the disabled, the poor and those who were labelled “sinful”. Our listening will need to be to those whose voices are not often heard, due to their ethnicity, their gender, their lack of education or because they are regarded as “sinful”. We need to model our way of listening on the practice of Jesus.

For the experiences of these people to be heard we need a safe place where their voices and experiences will not be open to ridicule, abuse or even physical and emotional violence. Such violence is the experience of gay and lesbian people in every culture and country. We need to have a way of reporting which offers safety, security and freedom from censure.

The internet offers the possibility of response which was never available before and we hope to use this medium to allow as many to respond as possible. While millions of Anglicans do not have computers in their homes, most towns do have internet cafes.

This way of collecting materials is not perfect, but it offers access for more people than ever before. We will, of course, accept contributions in any form, but the internet and e-mail will give us new opportunities.

Some who would identify themselves as traditional or conservative feel they are silenced by powerful liberal voices. We are offering a safe place for all views and perspectives. The voices of conservatives from around the world are actively sought, even if it will mean pain for those who are liberal in their outlook. The voices of liberals are actively sought, even if that is likely to cause pain to those who are conservative. Those who feel they are attacked on both sides should also feel safe to contribute.

We are also seeking to hear from those who are uncertain and who are questioning. You do not have to be certain that you have discovered the voice God in order to contribute.

Some one who just sends in questions is welcome. All of us who have run groups know that it is the person who asks the “silly” question who enables the whole group to hear answers. No question is “silly” if you do not know the answer!

3. Vulnerability

The  issues surrounding human sexuality have made us all feel vulnerable.
Some fear the ending of the faith as we know it.
Others fear not being accepted.
Some fear being split in two with conflicting loyalties.
Some fear to ask questions and some fear to answer them.

These fears can only be answered by trusting in God to care for our church and for all who come to Him. However we need to admit our own vulnerability and accept the vulnerability of others.

Again it is the Bible that gives us the ultimate model. Jesus accepted the vulnerability of being human. His fears in Gethsemane were answered by his trust in God who rescued him from despair and death. We need to accept that all are vulnerable and trust God who can bring reconciliation in any context.

When Jesus was afraid he prayed. Please turn to prayer. Pray if you are preparing to contribute and pray for the process. By praying you will be contributing.

Conclusion

It is on this Biblical basis, in line with Anglican tradition and from reasoned analysis that we begin the task of encouraging the acquisition of further materials that the bishops of the Communion in preparing for the Lambeth Conference.

1. ACC 3 page 55

2. http://www.anglicannews.org/news/2006/06/archbishop-of-canterbury-challenge-and-hope-for-the-anglican-communion.aspx

3. http://www.aco.org/listening/world/docs/doc6.cfm

4. Paragraph 135 http://www.aco.org/windsor2004/downloads/windsor2004b.pdf

5. http://www.episcopalchurch.org/53785_71881_ENG_HTM.htm

6. Ibid. page 6

7. ACC 3 page 55

8. http://www.anglicancommunion.org/mission/fivemarks.cfm