The Archbishop of Canterbury responds

Earlier in the week we had coverage of the release of letters written by the Archbishop of Canterbury about his private views on the question of the sanctity of same-sex unions.

This statement appeared on the Archbishop’s website:

“In response to the recent coverage of the correspondence dated back to 2000, The Archbishop Canterbury has made the following statement:

In the light of recent reports based on private correspondence from eight years ago, I wish to make it plain that, as I have consistently said, I accept Resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference as stating the position of the worldwide Anglican Communion on issues of sexual ethics and thus as providing the authoritative basis on which I as Archbishop speak on such questions.

That Resolution also recognises the need for continuing study and discussion on the matter.  In the past, as a professional theologian, I have made some contributions to such study.  But obviously, no individual’s speculations about this have any authority of themselves.  Our Anglican Church has never exercised close control over what individual theologians may say.  However, like any church, it has the right to declare what may be said in its name as official doctrine and to define the limits of legitimate practice.   As Archbishop I understand my responsibility to be to the declared teaching of the church I serve, and thus to discourage any developments that might imply that the position and convictions of the worldwide Communion have changed.”

Read the full article here.

Also linked at the article is the letter that 19 bishops of the Church of England published responding to charges that the Archbishop was being less than forthcoming in leading the Communion and holding to one position when his private views were at variance.

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  1. JasonC

    First of all, in reference to the letter on the ABC’s website, did Lambeth 08 “affirm” or “re-affirm” anything? I thought no votes were taken. So much for it being the kum-ba-yah affair that some Bishops seem to have thought it.

    It only goes to show that any document (or non-document, in this case) can be interpreted to serve any agenda. In fact, to pretend that everything is absolutely clear and that no interpretation is necessary is ever the cry of the “traditionalist.” Lambeth 1.10 claims to rest on scripture–but whose scripture? Through whose eyes? In the light of what culture and understanding? It is not the way I read scripture.

    But apparently we no longer have a right to disagree on such matters. Instead, we are given a magisterium to tell us what to think, the right way of reading and interpreting. Convenient, isn’t it, that the right way just happens to be in line with those already in power?

    And hold on. Did Jesus advocate for keeping quiet, not upsetting the status quo, working for change with humility while ordinary people suffer? Did he teach that this is the way we were to resolve conflict in the church? They don’t cite any scripture on that, and I’m not surprised.

    As far as “foot-in-the-door” tactics go: liberals have gotten more than enough undeserved flack for this over the years. But how long would it have taken General Convention to ordain women without the Philadelpia 11? Rather longer than God would have liked, I think. There is a time for prophecy, friends. Besides which, the case in hand of the Bishop of New Hampshire was not a “foot-in-the-door” moment. He was duly elected and approved by General Convention. There was nothing irregular about his consecration. The rest of the world may not understand or like the polity of the Episcopal Church, but it cannot accuse us of going around our own rules in this case. Lambeth resolutions–which we, I believe, rightly set aside in the case of +Gene–were not until that moment held to be anything other than advisory. And in that case, Lambeth’s advice did not speak to our condition in any helpful way.

    If this is what the Anglican Communion is or has become: a megisterium guarding and protecting the power of those who already have power, then I for one am ready to walk away gracefully, for the sake of GLBT folk in this country and abroad; for the sake of our integrity and witness within our culture; and for the sake of abiding by our own constitution and canons regarding non-discrimination. B011 must go, and if that results in “reduced status” in the Communion, then so be it.

    – Jason Cox

  2. So, Archbishop Williams says, “Our Anglican Church has never exercised close control over what individual theologians may say. However, like any church, it has the right to declare what may be said in its name as official doctrine and to define the limits of legitimate practice.” (Emphasis mine)

    Once again Archbishop Williams shows his commitment to a Communion more Romanesque than Anglican. He has used before the technical language used by Rome to distinguish a “church” from a “defective ecclesiastical institution.” He returns to it here, once again clarifying his belief of the point of the Windsor and Covenant processes.

    But, for most of us we understood we were part of a Communion and not a “church,” as “defective” as some might find that.

  3. JasonC and Marshall Scott, thank you. I am quite troubled by the change from the Anglican Communion to the “Anglican Church”. My understanding is like yours. We are part of a Communion, and I would like to remain part of a Communion.

    June Butler

  4. On the one hand, I’m quite clear what traditional Church teachings are. I’m also aware of various reasons on all sides of any argument over those traditional teachings. As a gay man, I’m not willing simply to toss them out the window: they need to be addressed in deeply theological and traditional ways. It’s not enough to seemly say “bah, old-fashioned” and wave labels like “homophobia” and “justice”. Christianity doesn’t work that way. I firmly believe it is possible to articulate a gay-inclusive, same-sex-blessing theology from a scriptural and patristic position. But it took 100 years to let Gentiles in fully – and they promptly started to squeeze Jews and Jewish practice out the other side. We need to do better in including others who may or may not accept that inclusive articulation.

    But we need theologians to take the risk and actually DO it.

    The ABC’s statement seems to indicate that he – like a good many other clergy and laity of my acquaintance – is quite willing to have gay friends, but not to, you know… do anything for them.

    A Bishop who makes a “prophetic action” with no theological argument may (rightly or not) be accused of caving in to secular politics. But an Archbishop who can (and has) made the argument but refuses to do anything about it may (rightly or not) be accused of duplicity, even lies, and certainly hypocrisy. When he admits publicly to doing one thing while believing another, I think he’s waffling to keep his job. It’s a pathetic action.

    By the way – his talk of “our Anglican Church” I take to mean the Church of England. But for those of you who are worried about “Romanisation”, you should have been worried when the Archbishop of a province other than England was selected for Canterbury. +Rowan’s translation from Wales to England (and thus between two autonomous churches) was the first sign of something new and very dangerous in Anglicanism. It’s only made worse by him implying that his *position* requires him to *lead* one way when his heart tells him otherwise. And when people like me – a member of ECUSA – start advising him on how to do his job as leader of the C of E, we are already in deep water here and long-gone is talk of communion from this.

  5. John B. Chilton

    Well said, Huw.

    My disagreement with you is that it is my perception that Rowan loves the AC (whatever the “C” in AC may mean) institution more than he cares about the concerns for inclusion of gays however strong a theological case he may see for it. He’s making what he perceives to be a tradeoff. Is that hypocrisy?

  6. Huw writes: It’s not enough to seemly say “bah, old-fashioned” and wave labels like “homophobia” and “justice”.

    Fair enough. I am not in favor of argument by buzzword, but It think it is important to call bigotry bigotry and bigots bigots. Otherwise bigotry becomes acceptable.

    Further, I don’t think the struggle we are involved in is exclusively, or perhaps even primarily theological or scriptural. No matter how persuasive the intellectual case we make, Peter Akinola is still going to recoil from the touch of a gay man’s hand, and Mouneer Anis is still going to think that he was chased around the University of Kent campus by hundreds of gay activists. The leadership of the Anglican Communion is shot through with the ugliest sort of homophobia, and we can’t beat it if we don’t name it.

  7. JasonC

    Huw and Jim:

    Many sound theological and scriptural arguments have been made in favor of GLBT relationships, as of course you know. And there are arguments against. Theological inquiry has always proceeded this way. I think the dangerous new idea is that, through the Windsor/Covenant process, there is now an attempt for the first time in Anglican history to set up a body that could decide which argument is “right.” (A very “modern” idea that, and full of hubris.)

    But I think Jim is also right that the reason all of this is happening is not theological or scriptural–its cultural. People inevitably, always, read scripture and formulate theology informed by their culture and experience. It is no surprise that +Akinola should see the norms of his culture affirmed in scripture; and I should admit, that as a gay man, it is no surprise that I should read scripture differently.

    I think the difference between +Akinola and me, however, is that I recognize how culture influences me. I think most traditionalists claim otherwise: that they are above such influence, that they can speak for God.

    Calling homophobia, or sexism, or racism out when we see it is one of the only tools we have to undermine the idolization of a cultural norm. Its just a way of saying, “You have a perspective, just like me. We all have a perspective. Get over yourself.”

    Now–how to choose between two perspectives? Jesus gives us a little guidance. First, which view bears fruit? In other words, which works in the real world for the betterment of most people? (Because we will “know them by their fruits.”) And second, which leads to more love? (Because you will “know them in how they love one another.”) So in this argument, which side works? Which is infused with love?

    Jason Cox

  8. Richard Lyon

    Rowan Williams’ vision of creating a centrally controlled church has intimations of reviving the British Empire. Somebody needs to explain to him that those days are long over. The associations with colonialism are likely to make the conservative Africans opposed to his initiatives along with the liberals in the west.

    He’s likely to find his ideas DOA.

  9. Jim – I don’t know that we need to call it “bigotry” – equally a loaded, secular and political term.

    I accept the fact that there are Christians who doubt the validity of my faith because, like a straight man or woman I freely choose to act on my sexuality – and dare to claim that it is right, and good and holy to do so. There are some who doubt my Christianity for other theological reasons: because I’m Episcopalian. There are some who doubt it because I’m Protestant. There are some who doubt it because I use icons in my prayers – and some who doubt it because my icons are not all “orthodox” enough.

    They are still my brothers and sisters in Christ. I want to argue that I’m right, of course: icons, Protestantism, Anglicanism *and* gayness. But I think it’s more important to fellowship with them and show them. To let them see what I’ve seen: that the fruits of the Spirit manifest in gay relationships as often as in straight ones. We are all sinners struggling to live into the fullness of God’s life for us. When they see that, they will accept (or not) what we say.

    +Peter, however, doesn’t yet accept even what I’ve said as a valid thing. “That I choose to act… good, holy to do so.” For he sees it all as a perversion and resorts to “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”. In other words: he’s wrong about the Bible from the get-go. He’s not heard or learned the right theology, or deep enough theology to hear the points. He’s accepting his own cultural standards as “religious” just like many Americans do (Left or Right) and just as St Peter did (despite what a Council said) until Paul showed him the arguments otherwise.

    We need to do that. Although it can have ramifications in the political realm, the issue is primarily theological, primarily even Christological. Can a woman or man attracted to the same sex be an icon of God? Can a relationship between two people of the same sex be an icon of Christ’s love for the Church, of God’s love for the Cosmos? Or are those very modern cultural statements beyond Christ’s act of redemption? The Roman Church says they are: insisting, at least on paper. that persons attracted to the same sex should not even be allowed into monastic orders – and certainly not Holy Orders!

    Episcopalians say otherwise. How? Why? And we need to present the argument in ways that +Peter can hear them. I don’t think the argument has been made fully since John McNeill’s “The Church and the Homosexual”.

    +Rowan (as I tried to indicate in my first post) is capable of making the argument. His theological writings strike me as too deep and too dry for the average Christian to understand, but we’re not even to that point yet. He’s willing rather to imagine there’s something that must be enforced on him and the rest of us above and beyond this valid argument. That gets us into questions of polity and I’ve no desire to be in that new polity that is already manifesting.

  10. David Austin Allen

    I am not sure that I can put into English what I feel in my soul, but I will try.

    I think many apologist approaches to the “texts of terror” are a cop out, looking for a loop hole.

    I believe that a straight forward reading of the Old Testament Holiness Code, whether in the original Hebrew, or a faithful English translation, condemned sexual relations between two men.

    I believe that the same goes for Paul in Romans 1 regarding sexual relations between two men or two women.

    But intimately, I do not care about what the Bible teaches about sexual relations between folks of the same gender. I do not care if we can “articulate a gay-inclusive, same-sex-blessing theology from a scriptural and patristic position.”

    Because when push comes to shove, I believe that for AUG 2008, that the Bible is wrong! And that use of the Bible to judge and to condemn sexual relations between folks of the same gender is wrong.

    For whatever reason, and it is difficult to know the reasons, world view and mindset of folks living 2 thousand or 4 to 5 thousand years ago, those positions in the Bible represent the entrenched prejudices or misunderstandings incumbent of patriarchy.

    Patriarchy has wrought many sins upon the world; sexism, heterosexism, misogyny, slavery, homophobia, to name but a few. Many of those sins are entrenched in scripture as well, and we have determined them to be wrong.

    For me, to have these scriptures applied to my life as a gay man to judge, condemn and discriminate against me, flies in the face of my personal experience of God in my life. I will take my experience over scripture every time!

  11. Huw, I am not talking about people who disagree with your intellectual conclusions. I am talking about people who don’t think you have the right to reason, who want to put you in jail, who think, like Henry Orombi, that you and your vast network of allies (many of whom are drug addicts, according to Orombi) are plotting to kill them. These people may be our brothers and sisters in Christ, but they if they believe what Akinola, Orombi and Anis (primates every one) believe, they are bigots.

    There were people who opposed integration based on states rights arguments, but they weren’t the ones wielding the fire hoses, or kidnapping freedom riders in the middle of the night. It is important to draw these types of distinctions.

    Akinola rejected To Set Our Hope on Christ before reading it. He is not interested in our arguments.

  12. Nicholas Knisely

    David, the reason that people have been reluctant to simply declare sections of the bible wrong, as you suggest we do, is that once you start doing this, it’s not clear where we stop. This method of cutting out parts that we think are wrong or that no longer apply to us has been done before in the life of the church, and it’s never worked in the long term.

    That’s the reason that people are attempting to contextualize the readings by viewing them within a greater narrative contained in scripture – much harder to do in practice, but much safer as well in the long run.

  13. JasonC


    I don’t know that I entirely agree. Being a good product of VTS, I don’t think I would say as strongly as David that sections of scripture I don’t like are “wrong,” more just that those passages are a product of their culture and don’t have much to say to our culture. But in the end it comes to the same thing: if the Bible says pretty clearly that men should not lie with men, and yet my experience (and I think experience, or as I called it above, perspective, is key) tells me that God loves me as I am and blesses the same-sex relationship that I am in, then I’ll go with the experience and ignore Leviticus.

    Everyone picks and chooses: to pretend that you don’t is dangerous.

    And to add to amplify David’s statements: there are scriptures and there are scriptures. There are narratives in the Bible, and then there are counter-narratives. There are passages that seem to support Patriarchy and gender submission (creation in Gen 2; Pseudo-Pauline writings); and passages that seem to posit a radical gender equality, counter-their-original culture view (Gen 1; Galatians). Some passages are relentlessly pro-Hebrew, smash the skulls of the enemy with God’s blessing; and some hold that Israel was blessed by God in order to be a light to all nations.

    How to pick between the narratives? Well, I laid out above some ways that I use to pick one view over another (which bears fruit? which leads to more love?). What would you propose?

    -Jason Cox

  14. tgflux

    Well said, Jason. To say that the Bible contains narratives and counter-narratives, mandates and counter-mandates, is NOT to throw up one’s hands, and say to heck w/ it.

    As a Christian, to me it’s just another reminder that Jesus Christ is THE Word of God, and it’s through his life, teaching, self-offering-unto-death, and resurrection, that we (in all humility, and provisionally) judge the Words of God in Scripture.

    Daveed: IF it came down to following the “plain reading” of the Bible, and affirming my own (and those MORE holy than my!) God-created sexual identity then, like you, I’d go w/ the latter.

    Fortunately, as I interpret Scripture (with the help of Tradition and Reason), I haven’t had to make that decision. Scripture, in the Wholeness of Salvation History, luvs us LGBTs! 🙂

    JC Fisher

  15. Jim –

    I am talking about people who don’t think you have the right to reason,

    So am I.

    You know, Turn the other cheek. Pray for them that persecute you. Resist not evil. All that silly Jesus stuff.

    If I fail to treat them as Jesus would – right up to the point of nails, thorns, spears and tombs – I have no reason to expect any better.

  16. I don’t recall Jesus having a problem calling evil evil. That’s all we are talking about here. And I don’t see how concluding that a political fight (as I do) is actually an intellectual argument(as you do) is more Christlike than concluding the reverse.

  17. Jim – I do disagree with your calling my argument “intellectual” although you are free to point out it’s not what I hope: which is loving and Christlike. I don’t think a political fight is where the Church should be. In which case, I ask your forgiveness.

    We’re trying to convince our Brothers and Sisters in Christ that there is a defect in their theology – in their understanding of God and in their prayer (as the Saints have said, the True theologian is the one who prays.)

    *We* are the ones doing a new thing here. It is we who should make the presentation of our reasons, we who should wait for the weaker ones to catch up. We who should be praying for them and loving them into where we see God acting. The only way to do that is in showing them the action of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christians. If we are right – that God is doing a new thing in the area of human sexuality – we should stake our lives on it as Jesus did: by praying for those who disagree. If we are wrong… well, either way, we trust to God’s mercy.

    But +Rowan doesn’t willing to do the work needed. Like I said, he’s not willing to use his vast theological gifts to make that argument. I don’t think we are, either.

    Regarding your comment about Jesus calling evil by it’s name. I think “he without sin” *may in fact* cast the first stone. That’s not me, however. I’ve got enough evil in my own life than to wory about someone else. Jesus said “resist not evil”: I’ll stick with that.

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