“What God hath joined together …”

What follows is an article by Archbishop Fred Hiltz published in The Globe and Mail on July 15, 2008.

Next week about 700 Anglican bishops from throughout the world will gather at the University of Kent in Canterbury, Eng., for the 2008 Lambeth Conference. In convening this once-a-decade gathering the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has expressed his hope that the bishops’ relationships with one another in Christ will be deepened and that our capacity for compassionate and courageous leadership will be strengthened.

A typical day at this conference will include a celebration of the Holy Eucharist hosted by different churches within the Communion, a significant block of time in a study of John’s Gospel, and time together in indaba groups. Indaba is an African word meaning “meetings for purposeful discussion among equals.” Discussions will focus on a wide range of themes, including Anglican identity, living under the scriptures, fostering communion in the interest of mission, the gospel and social justice, being Christian in a multi-faith world, and environmental concerns.

One of the topics that will dominate a number of conversations in and around the conference is the blessing of same-sex unions. For some this is a Communion-breaking issue. Those who feel this way say that others have departed from the authority of the Word of God, and from the orthodox expression of the faith and tradition of the Church’s teaching on sexuality. They are so convinced of these things that they feel compelled to leave the national expression of the Church to which they belong.

For many others, however, this is not a communion-breaking issue. It is certainly controversial and has created strained relations within the Church. But many people remain convinced of the need for continuing conversation. They are committed to principles of intentional listening, mutual respect, constructive dialogue and a capacity for tolerance of a variety of theological perspectives on this matter. For a great number of people the conversation centers on being faithful to the Word of God. Many acknowledge that as a group of Canadian Anglican theologians have said, “the interpretation of Scripture is a central and complex matter and that, at times in the Church’s history, ‘faithful’ readings have led to mutually contradictory understandings, requiring ongoing dialogue and prayer towards discernment of the one voice of the gospel.”

For some the conversation needs to be expanded to include the benefit of scientific research.

For some others the critical question is “what constitutes loving and responsible pastoral care of gay and lesbian couples who desire to live in monogamous, life-long, committed relationships?”

Controversial issues have often tested the principle of autonomy on the part of National Churches that are bound together in the global Anglican Communion. So the question becomes – Is unity the ultimate value transcending all others, even at the risk of not acting on what we believe to be a gospel imperative in a local context? Or is action on a gospel imperative the ultimate value that transcends all others even at the risk of not maintaining unity?

I believe this question is critical to our conversations at Lambeth 2008. My hope is that even in the face of differences held with deep conviction, we will not break communion with one another but rather remain together in the fellowship of Christ’s love and peace.

One last word – Sexuality is but one of many important issues to which the Church needs to turn its eyes and heart and hands. Other issues include effective proclamation of the Good News of God in Christ, ministering to suffering humanity, addressing issues of poverty and power, war and peace, human rights and justice for all, and the care of creation.

Pray God we have the wisdom to put conversations about sexuality in this larger context. To do so will honour the theme of the Lambeth Conference “God’s People for God’s Mission”.

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