Oxford consultation blasts ‘serious breach of order’

By James Solheim, Episcopal News Service

A consultation on the Future of Anglicanism, meeting June 29-July 5 at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford, England, concluded with a declaration that blasted what it called “a serious breach of Anglican order” in recent decisions to bless same-gender relationships, action that has created “a widening circle of scandal and distress.”

Pointing to the June 15 decision by a synod meeting in the diocese of New Westminster, and a recent decision by the bishop of the diocese of Kansas to create a rite for blessing relationships outside of marriage, the Oxford Declaration said that the developments involved “substantial departures from the Biblical understanding of our human sexuality as created by God and confusion about our identity as male and female as understood in Christian tradition.”

In his sermon at St. Aldgate’s Church in Oxford, Archbishop of Canterbury George L. Carey expressed his own “sympathy and concern” for those in New Westminster who opposed the decision opening the way for a rite of blessing. He said that “the issue is a most serious one,” raising two problems. “It first of all undermines marriage. And secondly, it is schismatic,” because “it divides the Communion. It also makes us a very embarrassing partner in ecumenical circles as well.”

Archbishop Carey said that he had written to Bishop Michael Ingham of New Westminster, asking for clarification, and also to all the primates of the Anglican Communion “offering them some advice on what we should be doing and asking them to tell me what they believe the issues are and what I ought to be taking to the Standing Committee of the Primates when we meet in September.”

Bishop Ingham, in turn, sent the archbishop 48 pages of documentation which, he said, should clarify the “exhaustive process” the diocese had gone through before it reached its decision.

Some participants in the Oxford consultation — mostly theologians and bishops, including several primates and Canadian bishops Tony Burton, diocese of Saskatchewan, and Ron Ferris, of Algoma — signed a “letter of solidarity” endorsing Carey’s request for clarification on “the legality of the decision” in New Westminster, the “adequacy of the proposal for an episcopal visitor” for those parishes opposed to the decision, as well as “safeguards for clergy and laity dissenting from the innovation.” The letter also asked about the “role and mind of the Canadian House of Bishops and the degree of consultation with the wider Anglican Communion in the process of the decision.”

The primates who signed the letter “expressed their intention to arrange a pastoral visit to the concerned parishes of New Westminster.”

The action in Canada, as well as in a number of dioceses in the Episcopal Church USA, “violate the commitments to the historic faith and order of Anglican Christianity,” are “unfaithful to 2,000 years of Christian teaching,” and “specifically contradict the resolutions of the 1998 Lambeth Conference and the subsequent advice of the primates’ meetings,” the declaration argued.

Sexuality issues and standards of behavior mask “the underlying causes [related] to deeper and wider theological and ethical questions. Their effects upon the mission, unity and pastoral competence of the church are also correspondingly more serious. We find ourselves at a critical moment when Anglican witness to Biblical teaching on Christian marriage and sexual ethics is seriously compromised and pastoral care of the sexually broken is obstructed,” the declaration concluded.

The declaration thanked Carey for his comments and asked him and the primates “to authorize such emergency measures as will enable threatened parishes and clergy to continue their life and ministry with a quiet conscience within their dioceses


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