By Jim Naughton
Left wing inclusion mongers should feel pretty good about this afternoon’s press conference on human sexuality at the Lambeth Conference. The bishops are sharing their views respectfully, speaking from their hearts, disagreeing vigorously, but forging real relationships despite their differences. If that sounds like the lead the Conference Design Team would have written if I’d sat them down at my keyboard, that’s because the design team seems to be succeeding.
Episcopalians who believe that agreeing to disagree about human sexuality is the only way to save the Anglican Communion, have to be encouraged when the bishops gathered here seem, at least for the moment, to be doing just that.
“Growth in understanding is occurring,” said Archbishop Philip Aspinall of Australia.
In their morning Bible study and indaba groups, the bishops discussed how homosexual activity was perceived in their dioceses, and what effect the controversy within the communion over this issue had had on their ability to move forward in mission.
The key figure in the afternoon press conference was Archbishop Ian Ernest of the Indian Ocean. He is Peter Akinola’s successor as chairman of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa. In his last session as president of CAPA, Akinola attempted to organize a continent-wide boycott of the conference, and failed.
Today, his successor, who also served on the Lambeth Design team and chaired some of its meetings, told reporters that he found the conversation on human sexuality “exciting and challenging.” He spoke of expressing his convictions “clearly, but with generosity.”
He described speaking passionately about his convictions and then hearing a bishop from the Episcopal Church speak passionately about his convictions. “Then we held hands together.”
“Today in the process that has been given to us, we were able to look at one another,” he said. “We were able to shed tears with one another.”
Ernest said the honesty fostered in the indaba groups had allowed bishops to “widen” their discussion of sexual ethics. “We have also talked of the problem of polygamy,” and “intense sexual activity” among teenagers, he said.
Ernest and Aspinall disputed the assertion that due to the boycott by Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda, the voice of conservative Anglicans was not being heard in the conference.
“We are going to be a bridge (to them,)” Ernest said. Asked if the conference was sidestepping the issues, he said “We are not stepping aside we are working with it.”
Reflecting on the procedure employed during the conference, Aspinall explained that Archbishop Rowan Williams saw little purpose in revisiting Resolution 1.10 from the 1998 Lambeth Conference. He said that while the views embodied in that resolution remained the views of the “vast majority” of the communion, the process by which the resolution was arrived at “didn’t help the church move forward.”
“You won’t be surprised to hear that we haven’t suddenly reached consensus on the issue of homosexuality,” Aspinall said. “The problems are not all resolved.”
However, he added, that the mood in 2008 is dramatically different (than in 1998). “Bishops from opposite ends of the spectrum actively embraced each other and thanked each other for helping each other” understand how the issue of sexuality plays out in their provinces, he said.
Colin Johnson, Bishop of Toronto said that the conversation had led some bishops to “nuance their positions.”
It is “unrealistic to expect a full resolution” of the issue of the morality of gay relationships that is under discussion throughout the world, he said. “What consensus that has been created has gathered around the environment, ecology and the MDGs.”
Some bishops have complained that “the media concentration on sexuality” has made if difficult to make it clear how much progress has been made on other issues, Johnson added.