Blessing of same gender unions
Recently, the Church of England, an independent member church in the Anglican Communion which makes decisions that are not binding on member churches, took a decision at its General Synod to authorize the blessing of same sex/gender unions. The resolution which was approved by bishops, clergy and laity and which specifically noted that such blessing was not understood as marriage, was the culmination of years of ‘learning and listening’, especially following on from the decision of the 1998 Lambeth Conference. In 1998, the bishops at the Lambeth Conference, representing the over 40 provinces of the Anglican Communion, of which the Church of England is one, in resolution 1:10 recognized and agreed that a variety of sexual orientations exist in the church of which homosexuality is just one expression. They agreed that “While rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, …all our people [are] to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialization and commercialization of sex”.
This means, and as supported in a recent letter by the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, “The Church of England General Synod voted to maintain its doctrine of marriage while enabling prayers of thanksgiving and dedication, and for God’s blessing, for people in same-sex relationships to be used in Church of England churches, if they wish to do so”. A decision is still to be made at their General Synod in July. In the meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury has publicly stated that he will not use these prayers because of his role as a focus of unity [spiritual head] for the communion. His stance is purely out of altruism as he has every right to abide by the decision of the synod of the Church of England which, I repeat, is not being imposed on other provinces.
Subsequent to the 1998 conference there were deep divisions in the Anglican Communion as some of those who supported the resolution were strident that any church within the communion which deviated from it should be punished by, for example, excommunication or exclusion from the communion or fellowship of churches. Others were of the view there needs to be respect for differences and everything is to be done to keep the fellow of churches together. It was during that time that the movement that as come to be known as the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) began with a view to upholding scriptural and theological truth over against those who choose to remain committed to a fellowship of churches with the Archbishop of Canterbury as its spiritual head. This division remains in place today and there is no doubt that the recent decision of the Church of England will continue to challenge the move towards deeper fellowship and cooperation among the 80 million Anglicans.
At the same time, churches in the Anglican Communion remain independent yet interdependent of each other, hence the decision of one group is not binding on others. For this reason, the decision of the Church of England General Synod does not affect the position of the Church in the Province of the West Indies (CPWI) of which the Diocese of Jamaica & the Cayman Islands (Anglican Church) is a part. The CPWI, in general, and the Anglican Church in Jamaica in particular continues to affirm Lambeth Resolution 1:10 of 1998 while, at the same time, continuing in fellowship and cooperation with the Church of England as an independent entity within the worldwide Anglican Communion or fellowship of Churches.
To this end it is heartening to hear from the Secretary General, The Right Revd. Anthony Poggo, that “In case anyone suggests to you that the Church of England’s decision is something that other provinces are expected to adopt in their own context, please remember that this is not true. The very nature of our Anglican Communion, and all our Instruments of Communion, would not allow such a situation.” This means Anglicans are united and celebrate the diversity with the recognition that the 42-member churches or provinces of the Anglican Communion are autonomous and yet interdependent. Decisions are made independently of each other nonetheless, the task is to remain in full communion with one another and this has been the case since 1887 and while this has not always been easy, especially in the 1930s when abortion was approved, so far there has been a commitment to seek agreement whenever possible. It is, therefore, very heartening to see that steps are being taken to explore the continued role of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the extent to which the person holding that office should continue as spiritual head of the Anglican Communion. This is a very progressive discussion and one can only hope that the outcome or final decision will be agreeable to all or most people in this fellowship of churches.
Rev. Garth Minott is the Bishop of Kingston.