Liberal and Conservative Anglican Bishops Offer Proposal
A liberal American bishop and a conservative South African bishop have urged the Anglican Communion not to rush to a decision over the issue of homosexuality.
"A Catechesis on Homosexuality" was issued on May 20 by Bishop John Shelby Spong of the Diocese of Newark (U.S.A.) and Bishop Peter John Lee of the Diocese of Christ the King (Southern Africa). Following an acrimonious exchange of letters by the bishops, the head of the Anglican Communion encouraged the two parties to write this joint statement.
The "Catechesis" is addressed to the Lambeth Conference, a ten-yearly gathering of bishops from the worldwide Anglican Communion. Homosexuality is expected to be a hot issue at the 1998 conference, which will take place in England in July and August.
For the past two years, various Anglican bodies have been issuing statements on homosexuality, most of which condemn the views of other Anglicans. In November 1997, Bishop Spong reacted to a conservative statement by sending an open letter to the heads of the world's Anglican national churches, expressing his fear that liberal views on homosexuality would not be tolerated at the Lambeth Conference. In response, the Most Rev. George L. Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Anglican Communion, accused Bishop Spong of being intolerant toward conservative views.
Bishop Lee joined the conversation in December, suggesting that Bishop Spong was showing contempt toward Anglicans in the Second and Third Worlds, many of whom oppose homosexuality. Bishop Spong in turn accused Bishop Lee of upholding a position akin to racism.
The "Catechesis" suggests that such differences in Anglican opinion are so deep at the moment that it would be unwise for the Lambeth Conference to decide in favor of one view or the other. "We do not suggest a compromise because we do not believe compromise is either possible or a proper way to proceed in reaching moral conclusions," say Bishops Spong and Lee. Instead, they suggest that the Lambeth bishops pass resolutions on matters where most Anglicans agree and refer other matters to an international panel that the Archbishop of Canterbury has proposed be established.
The bishops suggest three areas of possible agreement: "First, we believe that homosexual people are God's children who with the entire human family share in God's love and they must therefore be treated with fairness, justice and equality before the law. . . . Second, we stand together in upholding the sacredness of marriage and the importance of the family unit in every society. . . . Third, [we condemn] any sexual behavior that is predatory or promiscuous."
Bishops Spong and Lee believe that there is presently no agreement in the Anglican Communion over the blessing of same-sex couples, the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals, and the authority of the Bible.
Noting that "catechesis" means "a dialogue between believers," Bishops Spong and Lee conclude, "It is our hope and our prayer that the Anglican Communion, through the example of its bishops, can model for the rest of the world a method of dealing with conflict, even rending conflict."
Ironically, Bishop Spong's own presence at the Lambeth Conference remains in question. The Times reported on May 16 that some evangelicals in the Church of England have asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to bar Bishop Spong from the conference. The evangelicals were reacting to the recent "Call for a New Reformation," in which Bishop Spong condemns traditional Christian interpretations of God, Jesus' divinity, original sin, Jesus' virgin birth, the New Testament miracles, Jesus' motives for dying, the Resurrection, the Ascension, the biblical moral code, prayer, and life after death. The last view that Bishop Spong condemns as "mindless fundamentalism" is the conservative Christian view on homosexuality.
© 1998 Heather Elizabeth