The Oxford Declaration

A statement on an issue of faith and order by the consultation on the Future of Anglicanism, July 2002

The following declaration was forwarded by Edith M. Humphrey, a Canadian theologian who attended the Future of Anglicanism consultation.

We, the participants in this consultation, representing Anglicans in Africa, Australasia, Latin America, the Caribbean, North America and Europe, greet you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Among us are primates, bishops, clergy and lay leaders from all sections of our Communion.

It has been our privilege to meet from 29th June to 5th July 2002 to consider a wide range of subjects relating to the Anglican Communion. We have heard inspiring accounts of God’s work among us. We affirm the spirit of international co-operation and accountability that has been manifest here and which we believe must characterise our global Communion. We have received much encouragement, especially from the growth of the Church in the Global South through faithful evangelism. We have been made sharply aware, however, of troubles affecting a number of Episcopal and Anglican dioceses in North America. In one Canadian diocese and others in the United States, there have been recent decisions involving 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. These represent a serious breach of Anglican order, and resulted in a widening circle of scandal and distress.

On 14th June 2002 the diocesan synod of New Westminster, Canada, voted in favour of a proposal by its bishop to authorise the creation of a rite for the blessing of same-sex relationships, while offering a conscience clause unacceptable to faithful parishes and clergy who dissent from this innovation. Some days later the bishop of the Diocese of Kansas, U.S.A., gave his permission for blessing the union of heterosexual couples not committed to marriage. Before both of these developments the Bishop of the Diocese of Delaware approved the blessing of same-sex relationships. In many more dioceses, same-sex blessings already take place with varying degrees of episcopal support.

These actions are unconstitutional in that they violate the commitments to the historic faith and order of Anglican Christianity entrenched in the foundational documents of the churches involved. They are unfaithful to 2000 years of Christian teaching and, as such, are schismatic and prejudicial to pastoral order and the mission of the church. They specifically contradict the resolutions of the 1998 Lambeth Conference and the subsequent advice of the Primates’ Meetings. In some instances they are also linked with abrupt and unjustified actions against faithful parishes and clergy. In New Westminster eleven clergy are currently threatened with the withdrawal of their licences. In the Diocese of Pennsylvania a loyal and faithful priest faces deposition in September. More widely in the Episcopal Church in the United States there is costly litigation and the threat of seizure of church properties. Biblically ordered Episcopalians commonly find no access to the ordination process or, if ordained already, are on occasion, refused appointment. Much of this constitutes a clear abuse of ecclesiastical power and a grievous failure of Christian charity.

Although the presenting issue in most of these anomalies and disturbances is human sexuality and standards of sexual behaviour that the Gospel requires, the underlying causes relate 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.

A coherent church cannot pursue contradictory approaches to such a critical area of pastoral ministry. Present examples show the long-term danger of increasing numbers of faithful clergy and lay people feeling obliged to leave our Anglican family. Since this situation in one part of our Communion affects the whole body, we undertake for ourselves and commend to fellow Anglicans, and specifically to the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission (IATDC) and the International Anglican Standing Committee on Ecumenical Relations (IASCER), the following:

To recognise humbly and penitently before God our own confusion and failures in Christian witness.
To repudiate firmly the actions of bishops who have failed to guard essential aspects of Biblical and Anglican tradition, and have instead promoted and even imposed contrary alternatives.
To renew our commitment to the historic Apostolic Faith, so that we will believe and live by its tenets amidst the challenges and opportunities of the contemporary world.
To nurture Christian marriage, and affirm and support the single life according to the Gospel.
To develop a compassionate and competent ministry that will help all of us in our sexual confusion and brokenness and lead people to repentance, restoration, and healing through the power of God the Holy Spirit.

We applaud the recent action of our Primates in defining the essence of Anglican belief in the authority of Scripture, the nature of God and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. We also appreciate Archbishop George Carey’s stated commitment to an Anglican Communion characterised not by a spirit of individual autonomy and wilful independence but by the Biblical emphasis on mutual accountability and interdependence. We strongly welcome the comments of the Archbishop of Canterbury in his meeting with us in which he characterised the actions of the Synod of the diocese of New Westminster as “schismatic”, as undermining marriage and as “ecumenically embarrassing”.

We now ask the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates to authorise such emergency measures as will enable threatened parishes and clergy to continue their life and ministry with a quiet conscience within their dioceses and member churches.

We affirm the position taken by the orthodox clergy and people under threat in the diocese of New Westminster; they are our beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. We undertake to maintain communion and shared pastoral ministry with them, as well as with others in similar situations within our Communion.

We further commend the early adoption of the proposals contained in To Mend the Net to provide a more permanent way of ordering the shared life of our Communion. In this way we look for an appropriate method of international decision-making, genuine mutual accountability among provinces, and a decisive lead in addressing a problem that may otherwise divide our worldwide family.

We are grateful for our fellowship in our Lord Jesus Christ and remain fully confident in our Lord’s loving purposes for his Church and his world.

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