Human sexuality, the Archbishops’ statement, and the Dromantine Communiqué

Following questions regarding the  Church of England’s attitude to new legislation in several countries that penalizes people with same-sex attraction, on 29 January the Archbishops of Canterbury and York wrote to all Primates of the Anglican Communion, and to the Presidents of Nigeria and Uganda, recalling the commitment made by the Primates of the Anglican Communion to the pastoral support and care of everyone worldwide, regardless of sexual orientation. Their letter  included an extract from the Dromantine Communiqué  issued after a meeting of Primates from across the Communion in 2005, and states

“Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ

In recent days, questions have been asked about the  Church of England’s attitude to new legislation in several countries that penalises people with same-sex attraction. In answer to these questions, we have recalled the common mind of the Primates of the Anglican Communion, as expressed in the Dromantine communiqué of 2005.

The  Communiqué said;

‘….we wish to make it quite clear that in our discussion and assessment of moral appropriateness of specific human behaviours, we continue unreservedly to be committed to the pastoral support and care of homosexual people.

The victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us. We assure homosexual people that they are children of God, loved and valued by Him and deserving the best we can give – pastoral care and friendship.’

We hope that the pastoral care and friendship that the Communiqué described is accepted and acted upon in the name of the Lord Jesus.

We call upon the leaders of churches in such places to demonstrate the love of Christ and the affirmation of which the Dromantine communiqué speaks.”

Yours in Christ,

+Justin Cantuar   +Sentamu Eboracensis

Responses to the letter

The Archbishop of Uganda Stanley Ntagali  comments

“The Church of Uganda is encouraged by the work of Uganda’s Parliament in amending Anti-Homosexuality Bill to remove the death penalty, to reduce sentencing guidelines through a principle of proportionality, and to remove the clause on reporting homosexual behaviour, as we had recommended in our 2010 position statement on the Bill.

This frees our clergy and church leaders to fulfill the 2008 resolution of our House of Bishops to “offer counselling, healing and prayer for people with homosexual disorientation, especially in our schools and other institutions of learning. The Church is a safe place for individuals, who are confused about their sexuality or struggling with sexual brokenness, to seek help and healing,” [emphasis added],

[…]

“We would … remind [the Archbishops], as they lead their own church through the “facilitated conversations” recommended by the Pilling Report, that the teaching of the Anglican Communion from the 1998 Lambeth Conference, from Resolution 1.10, still stands. It states that “homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture,” and the conference “cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions.”

“It was the Episcopal Church USA (TEC) and the Anglican Church of Canada’s violations of Lambeth 1.10 which caused the Church of Uganda to break communion with those Provinces more than ten years ago.”

For its part, the US Episcopal Church has issued a Press Release in which the Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori makes a statement on LGBT rights which says inter alia

“The Episcopal Church has been clear about our expectation that every member of the LGBT community is entitled to the same respect and dignity as any other member of the human family.  Our advocacy for oppressed minorities has been vocal and sustained.  The current attempts to criminalize LBGT persons and their supporters are the latest in a series, each stage of which has been condemned by this Church, as well as many other religious communities and nations . . . . .”

However, the response from Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, Primate of Kenya and Chairman of the GAFCON Primates’ Council is uncompromising,

“We cannot therefore allow our time and energy to be sapped by debating that which God has already clearly revealed in the Scriptures.

[…]

While we should be thankful that the College of Bishops did not adopt the idea [within the Pilling Report] of services for blessing that which God calls sin, it did unanimously approve the conversation process and this is deeply troubling.

[…]

“I cannot therefore commend the proposal by the College of Bishops that these ‘facilitated conversations ‘ should be introduced across the Communion. This is to project the particular problems of the Church of England onto the Communion as a whole. As with ‘Continuing Indaba’, without a clear understanding of biblical authority and interpretation, such dialogue only spreads confusion and opens the door to a false gospel because the Scriptures no longer function in any meaningful way as a test of what is true and false.”

Comment

The main agenda item at Dromantine was consideration of the Windsor Report 2004, in which the Lambeth Commission on Communion had offered its recommendations on the future life of the Anglican Communion in the light of developments in Anglican life in North America.  Paragraph 6 of the Communiqué states:

“Many primates have been deeply alarmed that the standard of Christian teaching on matters of human sexuality expressed in the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10, which should command respect as the position overwhelmingly adopted by the bishops of the Anglican Communion, has been seriously undermined by the recent developments in North America.

At the same time, it is acknowledged that these developments within the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada have proceeded entirely in accordance with their constitutional processes and requirements.”

This essentially sums up the problem still facing the Anglican Communion, and illustrates a key difficulty in securing agreement on the Anglican Covenant.  Unlike the central authority of the Roman Catholic Church, provinces of the Anglican Communion are autonomous, and whilst a general consensus may be reached at meetings of its Primates, such agreements are not binding and may not be followed unless there is unanimous agreement.  However, the failure to abide by such agreements is inevitably a source of friction.

Kelvin Holdsworth explores this in his post The Archbishop of Canterbury is not a Pope”, in which he says

“Primates commenting on the political affairs of another country is always going to undermine collegial relationships amongst bishops and we should never impute authority to archbishops that they don’t have within our polity. One Anglican church meddling in the affairs of another’s patch is a serious business indeed.”

The Press Release concerning the Archbishops’ letter focusses on “the commitment made by the Primates of the Anglican Communion to the pastoral support and care of everyone worldwide, regardless of sexual orientation”.  Whilst reference to this earlier commitment could not be regarded as “meddling in the affairs of another’s patch”, given the Anglican Communion’s recent history on these issues – Resolution 1.10, events in TEC and Church of Canada, GAFCON, Jerusalem Declaration, &c – combined with the CofE’s own considerations in the Pilling Report, it was inevitable that these would feature in responses to the letter.

Most of these concern internal issues of the CofE and of the Anglican Communion, and whilst not underestimating the importance of these, they assume another dimension when one part of the church becomes involved in development of secular legislation in this area, particularly where it supports “draconian” legislation such as that in Uganda, which according to Navanethem Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “in so few paragraphs directly violates so many basic, universal human rights”.

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